Yura Movsisyan never doubted that opportunities would come his way even if he had little idea of the form those opportunities would take.
Growing up in Baku, Azerbaijan, he couldn't play organized soccer because of the persecution and oppression his Armenian brethren were subjected to. When his family came to Southern California to join its large Armenian community, the soccer he played seemed a universe away from the professional level he aspired to reach. When he did finally make it to the pros, a trade to a new team in just his second season set him back.
But Movsisyan has viewed these situations as opportunities. When another arose, it did so in unfortunate and strange circumstances, but came it did, and ready he was.
In a game against the Galaxy, Real Salt Lake striker Fabian Espindola celebrated a goal, as is his custom, with a back flip, and landed right in double jeopardy. The goal was disallowed, and Espindola came up hobbled by a sprained ankle.
Movsisyan replaced him, scored a goal that counted, didn't injure himself, and a few weeks later hit a pair of goals in a 3-2 victory at San Jose that pushed RSL a little closer toward the first postseason qualification in the club's four-year history.
"I honestly feel that Yura is a player that a lot of people that have been watching him for a while don't quite understand what he's made of, and what he's capable of," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "The coaching staff that sees him day in and day out has a full understanding of what he's capable of, and he showed it tonight."
Movsisyan, whose MLS career began in 2006 with the Wizards, hears in MLS cities echoes of his homeland, which is tucked between two countries, Turkey and Azerbaijan, which are utterly intolerant of Armenians. Nearly all of them have fled to other countries.
"There's a lot of Armenians here in the U.S," says Movsisyan. "I do sometimes hear people screaming and speaking our language when I go into the stadium on road trips, so that's nice to hear. It's happened in New York, Boston and San Jose. Soccer is our No. 1 sport, so it's very nice to play in front of your people and be recognized."
Cherif Zein, the soccer coach at Pasadena (Calif.) High School, recognized Movsisyan's goalscoring talents in his teen years. Zein, who also coached Movsisyan at Pasadena City College, began circulating his name to people like Ralph Perez, a former Galaxy assistant coach and U.S. Soccer staff coach.
"Trust is a difficult thing but I knew him ever since I came to this country and he always believed in me," Movsisyan says of Zein.
The Wizards picked Movsisyan in the 2006 SuperDraft, then traded him the following year after he'd scored five goals in 18 games.
In his first four games after replacing Espindola, he scored four goals and earned an assist. In Salt Lake City, despite its distance from his community in Southern California, where his family still lives, he and his wife Marianna found another support group: the RSL soccer fans.
"The fans have always been there, even in past seasons when this team really hasn't been successful," he says, "and this season with all the changes that have happened and with the new stadium and the fans being there all the time, it is something special to be part of that."
2005:Pasadena City College
2006-07: Kansas City Wizards
2007-08: Real Salt Lake
(This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue ofSoccer Americamagazine.)