Local coach, Paralympian Josh McKinney inducted into National Soccer Hall of Fame

Raleigh native and youth soccer coach Josh McKinney overcame the challenge of cerebral palsy to earn a spot in the National Soccer Hall of Fame (Photo courtesy NCFC Youth)

It was never easy for Josh McKinney.

Born with cerebral palsy which primarily affected the right side of his body, McKinney faced more challenges than the average person when it came to playing sports.

Something as simple as running was something he had to work hard at every day just to be able to compete with his peers.

Yet through his determination and dedication, he made his dreams a reality.

And after a nearly 20-year international career that saw him captain the US Men’s Cerebral Palsy (CP) National Team over 70 times as well score 81 goals, McKinney was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame earlier this month.

The West Virginia born Raleigh transplant was part of the 2024 class alongside US National Team and English Premier League goalkeeper Tim Howard and 1999 World Cup champion Tisha Venturini-Hoch.

“Being inducted into that class, with obviously three legends of the game, is an honor and privilege,” McKinney told North State Journal. “It was an amazing experience. Just walking into the museum and just kind of seeing everyone else that’s been inducted before me and just kind of seeing my jersey. It’s something you don’t think about when you’re playing, but to get that recognition, it’s an awesome feeling.”

McKinney, who is also a member of the North Carolina Soccer Hall of Fame, is also the first member of the US Extended National Teams to be inducted into the National HOF.

“It’s great for all future athletes with disabilities or extended national team athletes,” McKinney said. “Now kids kind of have those role models to show them that if they love something and are passionate about a sport or whatever it is, you can achieve it. Just put the work into it and enjoy it.”

The current NCFC Youth coach started playing soccer at the age five and fell in love with the sport almost immediately, but it wasn’t a straightforward path for McKinney.

“I always had struggles when I was younger, but I didn’t really recognize how much that affected me until maybe my first year at clubs, U14,” McKinney said. “Just kind of only getting five minutes of playing time. So I kind of was like ‘Okay, I need to figure out how I can stay on the field.’

“Obviously, there were struggles with speed and with the quickness part of the game and then obviously only being able to play with one side of my body, at that time. So, I kind of had to figure out how I could stay on the field. That was kind of the first moment I kind of realized the struggles I had to overcome.”

At every new stage of his career, McKinney faced hurdles that he couldn’t just tackle normally. Instead, he found ways in which to get around them.

“Each step, I kind of had to approach it differently,” McKinney said. “In the beginning, it was just kind of working on becoming the best passer and then in high school, it was sort of how can I be quicker without actually being faster. So just off the ball stuff and things like that. In college, I ended up doing double sessions. I would train with the team, but also, I would train with the women’s team as well in college just to get that extra workout in.”

As McKinney’s love and talent for the sport grew, he became more and more interested in finding ways he could make his dream a full-time reality and that’s when he stumbled upon his opportunity.

As he read through a Eurosport magazine in 1995, McKinney noticed an ad for a Paralympic team and that’s when it struck him.

He put together an audition video, sent it off and before he knew it, a 16-year-old McKinney was lacing them up in Argentina for the CRPSRA Pan-American Games as part of Team USA.

“It was an awesome experience,” McKinney said of his time playing on the national team. “Obviously just getting to travel and play a sport I love full time, but traveling to these countries and meeting these athletes, with similar struggles and just kind of learning from them as well was just a unique experience.”

Over his 19-year international career, McKinney scored 81 goals in 124 appearances for the US and led the Americans to a fourth-place finish in the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics as well as an eighth-place finish in both the 2004 and 2012 Games before retiring in 2014.

“Obviously, my family didn’t get to see me play that much because a lot of our games are kind of overseas and everything, so playing in Atlanta, in front of the home crowd, in front of family and friends was one of my favorite moments,” McKinney said.

Following retirement, McKinney began working with NCFC as a youth coach where he continues to inspire and develop the next generation.

“I wanted to stay in the game after I retired,” McKinney said. “So, it was a perfect opportunity. When you see your team finally putting things together, coming together and really competing on the field, that’s probably the best part.