Soccer’s John Tolkin Has A New Mantra This Season: Look Good, Feel Good, Smell Good, Play Good

by Luke Hanlon

John Tolkin dribbling during a friendly against France's U23 Men's Olympic Team on March 25, 2024 in Montbéliard, France. (Photo by Andrea Vilchez/U.S. Soccer)

John Tolkin hopes to be on the flight when the U.S. men’s soccer team heads to the Olympic Games Paris 2024 this summer. And if he is, you can bet he’ll have a couple small bottles of cologne tucked into his luggage.

“I’ve got probably 10 or 11 bottles (at home),” Tolkin said of his collection.

It’s all part of his updated mantra: “Look Good, Feel Good, Smell Good, Play Good.”

The 21-year-old left back said he started applying cologne before games this season, although that’s something he’s been hiding from his New York Red Bulls teammates. Not wanting to be caught in the locker room spraying himself before games, he’ll sneak off to the bathroom to apply Baccarat, Burberry or Louis Vuitton before taking the field. 

He’s still waiting for an opponent to compliment one of his scents, but the new pre-game routine seems to be working for Tolkin.

The Chatham, New Jersey, native participated in his third straight U.S. Olympic team training camp this past March, signaling a strong chance that he’ll be one of the 18 players selected by coach Marko Mitrović to make the trip to Paris this summer. In Olympic men’s soccer, all but three players on each team must be 23 or younger.

Unlike at other youth levels, the U23 men’s program only really exists around the Olympics. Mitrović was hired last September, and the team held its first camp a month later. With only sporadic camps thus far, Tolkin said it has taken some time for the players to get used to one another. After this third camp, however, Tolkin credited Mitrović for bringing a team made up mostly of MLS opponents together to build trust and respect among the squad. 

“I think at first guys were a little timid, and on the field you don’t really want to yell at your teammate because you don’t really know him; you play against them in the league and maybe there’s some tension there,” Tokin said. “Now I feel like guys can really get at each other because there’s that mutual respect.” 

There was at least one player Tolkin already had that respect for heading into the most recent camp. Daniel Edelman, a fellow New York defender who also came up through the Red Bulls academy, participated in his first Olympic training camp in March. 

“I was so happy for him,” Tolkin said. “He worked so hard for that, and he deserves it.” 

John Tolkin running during a friendly against Guinea's U23 Men's Olympic Team on March 22, 2024 in Girona, Spain. (Photo by Andrea Vilchez/U.S. Soccer)

The two New Jersey natives (Edelman grew up in Warren) kept each other company on the trip to France for two friendlies in late March. Both came off the bench in a 3-0 win against Guinea, while Tolkin started and Edleman was an unused sub in a 2-2 draw against France. 

The game against France was especially prescient since the U.S. will kick off its first Olympic men’s soccer tournament in 16 years with a game against the hosts on July 24 in Marseille. Tolkin said that opening game would be the one he’s most looking forward to. 

“It’s the first game in a packed stadium, what an atmosphere that would be,” he said.

Witnessing the atmosphere in France could give Tolkin a preview for what to expect in the United States when it hosts the 2026 FIFA World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico. 

Whether Tolkin plays in the World Cup or not, he was excited to hear that the final will be held at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. 

A die-hard New York Rangers fan, Tolkin went to one of the NHL’s Stadium Series games in February at MetLife to watch the Rangers beat the New York Islanders 6-5 in overtime. Tolkin said the atmosphere was electric, and he’d imagine it would only be crazier filled to the brim with soccer fans. 

He did mention a couple drawbacks that global soccer fans may not be used to, though. 

“I think the only thing fans may be upset about is the smell heading into the stadium, and the traffic, but I think for a World Cup final and knockout games, they’ll be OK with that,” he said.

So far this season for the Red Bulls, Tolkin has been playing with a buzzcut and his natural light brown hair color. In the past, he’s been seen sporting more adventurous hair styles, such as a bleach-blond mullet. 

If Tolkin makes the trip to Paris this summer, he confirmed that his hair will look much different than it does now.  

“It needs to get a little longer first, and I’m going to throw it back to something that I love,” he said. “Maybe not the blond, but something special for sure. A blast from the past.”