Josh Phelps will forever be in the history books of USL League One.
The 6-foot-4 defender became the first player signing in the newly-formed league on Sept. 12 by joining South Georgia Tormenta FC ahead of the 2019 League One season.
While he has enjoyed the long journey that has brought him to brink of playing professional soccer in Statesboro, Georgia, it hasn’t always been easy.
A native of Queensland, Australia, Phelps moved to the United States in 2012 after being medically discharged from the Australian military. His passion for soccer and admiration of higher education in the U.S. were important factors for him to make the life-changing decision.
"There are always going to be challenges when moving to the other side of the world," Phelps told USLLeagueOne.com. "Honestly, I became closed off and very independent in the beginning, and it wasn’t until I met my fiancé that I learned to open up and become more accepting of having another support group. Being away from my family, friends and support system was a tough one, but it was also something that helped me grow tremendously.
"I knew the collegiate system in the U.S. was second to none," he added, "and getting my degree was always important, as in sports, you never know when something can go wrong, and you need something to be able to fall back on."
Phelps played two years at Thomas College in Maine, winning two conference championships while being named to all-conference and all-tournament teams, before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke to study sports management. There, he served as the team captain and a student coach assistant in 2016.
He has played for Tormenta FC in the Premier Development League (soon to be USL League Two) since 2017, serving as team captain – assigned by Head Coach and Vice President of Player Development John Miglarese – both years. Phelps played an important role in South Georgia claiming the 2018 Deep South Division title – one of his favorite memories playing stateside.
"The stakes were high. If we won that game [against the Birmingham Hammers on July 5], we would clinch the division title," Phelps said. "Winning the game and being able to celebrate with my teammates, coaching staff and the traveling fans was great. I really enjoyed the moment and for a brief second, soaked up the hard work that the franchise had exerted over the past couple of years to finally achieve one of our goals."
Phelps’ family was not in attendance for that game and has not seen the defender lace up for Tormenta FC over the past two years – not because they don’t want to but simply because they all still live in Australia.
"They don’t miss many games, even with the 14-hour time difference," Phelps said. "They haven’t been able to come over and watch me play for Tormenta FC yet, but they met Darin and Netra Van Tassell, along with a bunch of the Statesboro fan base when they visited.
"My parents couldn’t be happier that I have signed with Tormenta FC, as they have a feel for the community that surrounds me and know the love, passion and pride that the club possesses for their TFC family. They have seen the effort that Tormenta FC puts into making sure its live stream is running well so that they can watch me play. Knowing the ins and outs of the club, we couldn’t be happier to be a part of the TFC family."
Currently in the process of becoming a permanent resident and obtaining his green card, Phelps is eager to give back to the community that has made him feel at home the past couple of years. The defender currently serves as the Ibis Soccer Training Program Head Coach for the Ibis Foundation, which is a non-profit organization linked with Tormenta FC.
"It focuses on the benefits of a soccer lifestyle by teaching the fundamentals of the sport at the highest level in a healthy and competitive setting," Phelps said. "We promote the international sport of soccer by providing accessible resources and opportunities for players to properly, train, learn and improve soccer skills in areas that may not have had these programs available in the past."
Moving across the world away from his entire family to play the game he loves has been difficult, but Phelps wouldn’t have it any other way as he’s found a new home in Statesboro with Tormenta FC.
"I have always told my family and friends that I want to do something worth writing about," Phelps said, "and I feel I am now on my way to do that. There were a lot of roadblocks and obstacles along the way, but that has made my accomplishments that much sweeter.
"I am excited that some of my teammates from our successful 2018 season will be joining me on the hunt for a 2019 title. Having players that have played together before is always a positive. We already know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. This will make the beginning of our season run a lot smoother, especially in a brand-new league."