La Liga, Liberia, and Lovely Locks

Charlotte Independence’s Joel Johnson talks about the early stages of his career, international experience, and who has the best hair on the squad.

Players arrive in the USL all the time from leagues all over the world. However, they do not typically come to the league with first-team experience in one of the top three leagues in soccer. That is exactly what defender Joel Johnson brings to the Charlotte Independence squad.

“I grew up in the academy of Valencia,” Johnson explains. “I arrived there at nine years of age and I had a chance to play with the first team when I was 17. It was my dream to become a footballer for Valencia in the first division of La Liga, so it was a very special time.” After his tenure with Valencia came to an end, he spent time with Real Madrid C. His last stop in his native Spain was Real Jaen CF. Looking back on his time playing in the highly regarded Spanish academy system, Johnson shares some of the notable players he played either with or against. “Isco, Paco Alcacer, Bernat [Juan Bernat], Portu [Cristian Manzanera], Mariano, Burgui [Jorge Alviz] & Marcos Llorente,” he recalls. “When I was with Real Madrid, practically all of these guys are playing in the first division, some are playing in the second division and some are in other countries, but the majority of them are playing in the first division of Spain.”

Despite being a native of Spain, Joel has decided to represent his father’s side of the family, choosing Liberia for his international career. When asked why he chose the African nation over the country he grew up in, he answers, “Because Spain never called me up. [Laughter] No, no it’s because I like to stay connected with my Liberian people and I have Liberian family. Also, I want to represent the country and through playing my game, I can hopefully help Liberia grow the game.” In the recent international break, he was able to play with his national team in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying. He played 90 minutes in Liberia’s draw vs. DR Congo. Speaking of Liberia, the country’s new president is also a soccer legend: former world-class striker George Weah. “Well he’s already a celebrity, so just imagine what it’s like over there,” Johnson says. “Both the young generation and elder generation look at him as a hero and the Liberians hope that he can achieve what the people of Liberia dream of.”

When he’s not proudly representing the Lone Stars, Johnson is a star defender in the USL. He is a solid defender and is dangerous going forward. He leads Charlotte in crosses with 103, over 60 more than second best. When asked what players have influenced his attacking style of defending the most, he says, “I really like Dani Alves, I like Maicon, I think he’s retired now. Also, Marcelo, even though he plays on the left side, he sometimes plays my position as well. I like that style of player, one that can give another opportunity on the attack.”


While he’s one of the best defenders on the squad, he does think he’s the undisputed best in a different category: best hair on the team. Who does he give second place to? [Laughter] “I wanna say Yann [Ekra], yea Yann. No, no, it’s Kay [Voser], definitely, Kay Kay.” The 25-year-old has enjoyed his time in the Queen City since arriving in 2016. He appreciates the calmness of the city and says it is a great place to live and to raise kids.

A star for his club and a promising player for his country, Johnson explains the difference between representing both, “Well, I feel the difference is the responsibility. When you are with the club, you are representing the club and their fans. But, when you are playing for a country, you have that entire country on your back waiting for you to bring back the victory.”

No matter where he’s playing, Joel Johnson is an exciting defender to watch with the best hair on the pitch.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Independence/Jared Allen and James Thomas


Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.