Making his mark

The U.S. men’s national team is returning to the Olympic soccer tournament this summer for the first time since 2008. 

The official U.S. roster for the 2024 Summer Olympics has not yet been announced, but one player who is very likely to be on the pitch in Paris is John Tolkin.

The New York Red Bulls defender has already been named an MLS All-Star in 2023 and has logged five goals and 11 assists so far in his career with the club. At only 21 years of age, Tolkin is quickly becoming one of the league’s best left-backs. 

Speaking during the Team USA Media Summit, Tolkin reflected on his career thus far. 

“It can be a lot and certainly overwhelming sometimes, but overall, it’s good,” he said. ” There are sacrifices you have to make but it’s totally worth it in the end. I’m just kind of not trying to get too ahead of myself and just trying to enjoy the moment. It’s been a great ride so far.” 

The Chatham, New Jersey native added that he’s taking his career game by game on both the club and international level. But looking into the future, Tolkin didn’t hide his excitement about representing the U.S. at the Olympics this summer. 

“There’s going to be so many cool stadiums, so many cool crowds you can play in front of,” Tolkin said. “It’s just a dream come true and we’ve had some great camps leading up to the Olympics so far. We had a great result against France [the last international window]. I love my team, teammates, traveling and playing games.”

Preparing for the Olympics

Back in March, the U.S. men’s Olympic team played a friendly against France that resulted in a 2-2 draw in which the Americans scored two goals in the final four minutes of the match. 

At the 2024 Games, the U.S. will once again come up against France, after being drawn into Group A with the host nation, along with New Zealand and the winner of a qualifying playoff between Guinea and a nation from the Asian Football Confederation. The U.S.-France match will be played on the first day of the competition of the Paris Games on July 24 in Marseille, two days before the Opening Ceremony. 

Tolkin has never been to France and expressed his eagerness to finally visit the country. 

“I hear it’s an amazing country and I’ve also never been to Paris,” he said. “It’s really exciting to kind of be in that culture for a bit of time and see what soccer is like there. I think the spirits within the French people will be really high and obviously every country. It’s a clash of cultures and it’s really cool.”

‘Smell good, play good’

Tolkin admitted there’s something else he’s excited about during his time at the Games.

“It’s gotta be [bringing my] cologne,” Tolkin said when asked what he had to pack for France. “I love all sorts of scents and I can’t do without cologne.”

But it’s not just any cologne that Tolkin said he’ll be taking with him to the Games.

The 21-year-old said his favorite bottle is the Baccarat Rouge 540, specifically the red one. Prices for this specific cologne vary depending on the amount in each one. The cheapest price for the product begins at $280. 

Ironically, Tolkin’s favorite cologne is made in France. But if the Olympics were to start this week, he would not be able to have that scent on him while playing. 

“I’m actually out of it right now,” Tolkin said. 

The Red Bulls defender added that he still has plenty of cologne options to choose from. He had 20 bottles in his collection but had to leave some behind when he moved to a new apartment. His collection includes some of the biggest brands.

“I was gifted some Louis Vuitton over the holidays, and I have some Burberry,” he said. “In my new place, I’ve got probably 10 to 11 bottles. My girlfriend also always seems to be smelling things so I need to be smelling good. It’s really important to me.” 

Since signing his first professional contract with the Red Bulls in 2020, Tolkin was able to buy more bottles to add to his collection. This year is the first year that he started to wear cologne while playing. It has been incorporated into a new mantra that he follows this season.

“You know the saying look good, feel good? Well for me it’s smell good, play good. I can’t be caught in the locker room spraying myself before we walk out so sometimes I’ll sneak to the bathroom before the game starts, but I do it for me.”

The Louis Vuitton bottle has been Tolkin’s to-go this season ever since he ran out of the Baccarat Rouge 540. He prefers to only stick with one bottle until it runs out instead of using a rotation. It also helps him notice if an opposing player uses the same type of cologne.

“I’ve played against guys who sprayed it and I like to say something,” Tolkin said. “Nobody has said anything about me wearing it. I’m waiting for that, actually.”

Playing against the world’s best talent

Players who might smell Tolkin’s cologne at the 2024 Games may include French soccer star Kylian Mbappe, who has consistently expressed his desire to play at the Olympics. It’s also someone Tolkin said he would like to play against. 

“I’m looking forward to that France game, it’s the first game in a packed stadium and one atmosphere that would be great,” Tolkin said. “If Mbappe plays, that’s great but who knows of the older aged players that they’ll bring but the guys of age are great players as well. If Mbappe is able to be released from his club, it benefits France and it’s amazing for him.” 

The 21-year-old added he would also like to play against Spain and Morocco due to the elite young talent both countries produce. 

Representing the U.S.

In regards to his own country, other players have been hinted at making the Olympic roster during the previous international window, such as goalkeepers Gabriel Slonina and Patrick Schulte, as well as midfielders Kevin Paredes and Paxten Aaronson

Each men’s Olympic soccer team is allowed to bring three players over the age of 23, and Tolkin has his mind made up on which players he would take if it was his choice. 

Christian Pulisic would be one of them, I’d like to play with Tim Weah, I think they are great players,” Tolkin said. “My last player would be Matt Turner. I got to know him at the Gold Cup and he’s a very cool guy and it’s fun to be around him.” 

Whether any of the players Tolkin mentioned will play at the Olympics is contingent on their physical status following the U.S. men's senior team's journey in the Copa America tournament, as well as getting the permission of their clubs to appear in two international competitions in one summer.

No matter who gets called up, Tolkin is sure all of his teammates in France will do their best to represent the U.S. after a long Olympic absence in the men’s soccer tournament. 

“It’s an honor and really something you can’t describe. I used to watch guys who would do this and wonder what that would feel like. I don’t know how to describe it but I now feel what those guys felt. To come from a really small town, I think not many people will be doing this so I feel really special, honored and grateful.”