By Mike Woitalla
One of the more enjoyable parts of interviewing pros is hearing anecdotes from their youth soccer days. Here are some from this season's MLS stars in the Youth Soccer Insider's latest edition of "When They Were Children."
DARLINGTON NAGBE (Portland Timbers)
Born in Liberia, Nagbe moved to Ohio with his mother at age 11 after living in France, Switzerland and Greece, where his father played pro soccer.
In Ohio, where the winters are so cold, it meant lots of indoor soccer -- in gyms and in the house.
“I liked to play with a mini-ball and a regular soccer ball,” says the 22-year-old Nagbe. “Did I break things in the house? Yeah, a lot. ... What did I break? ... I can’t say because my mom doesn’t know about it. SuperGlue works pretty well.”
SEAN JOHNSON (Chicago Fire)
The 23-year-old who’s currently No. 3 on the U.S. national team goalkeeper depth chart, grew up in Georgia, the child of Jamaican immigrants. Johnson loved soccer just like his dad, a semipro player, and tried to emulate the way Thierry Henry scored goals.
Now Johnson tries to keep Henry and other MLS stars from succeeding because at age 12 he became a goalkeeper while his Atlanta Fire was in Jamaica for a youth tournament.
“I was 12 years old when we went to a tournament and our goalkeeper got hurt,” Johnson says. “Our coach asked everyone if they could step in, but I was the only one who agreed to give it a shot. It kind of became permanent after that.”
Johnson still played some in the field – he was a high scorer in high school – but he had fallen in love with the position: “The excitement. The adrenaline rush …”
NICK RIMANDO (Real Salt Lake)
The 33-year-old, now in his 14th MLS season, got his start in goal much like Johnson. Rimando’s goalkeeping career started at age 10 when his team’s regular keeper suffered an injury.
“I don’t remember if we won or lost the game,” Rimando says. “I must have done pretty well because my coach kept me at goalkeeper. What I do remember is I fell in love with the position that day. I got to wear a different color jersey and use my hands – and that made me feel like a special player.”
Rimando started playing competitive ball with Upland Celtic but didn’t have much goalkeeper training early on.
“The father of a teammate I car-pooled with used to be a hockey player,” Rimando remembers. “He’d teach me stuff about playing the angles that he knew from hockey. Later on, I went to some goalkeeper camps.”
With Alta Loma Arsenal, he played alongside future national team captain Carlos Bocanegra. But when then-UCLA coach Sigi Schmid first scouted him at a high school game, Rimando was playing forward.
“Sigi got a laugh out of that,” said Rimando. “But he came back to see me with my club, where I played goalkeeper.”
Rimando went pro after his junior season at UCLA.
LUIS SILVA (Toronto FC)
In Silva’s case, he went from goalkeeper to field player.
“I started playing soccer when the 1994 World Cup was going on,” says Silva, who was born and raised in Los Angeles. “There was soccer fever. I played with neighborhood friends."
Then 5 years old, Silva admired Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos, famous for his ventures outside the penalty area, his ability to play forward, and his colorful jerseys.
“Kicking the ball around with friends, they just started taking shots at me and I guess I was good at blocking shots,” Silva remembers. “I liked it. Jorge Campos was my idol. I liked him a lot. A lot of kids liked him. I tried to be like him. I got the nickname – they used to call me 'Campos.'”
The big change came when he was 10 years old.
“We were down 1-0 in a game, and my coach put in another goalkeeper in the second half and put me in the field, in midfield,” Silva says. “We had a free kick. One of my teammates took it, and I scored on a header. I scored!
“After that, the coach would have me play goalkeeper one half and in the field, as midfielder or forward, in the other half.”
JUAN AGUDELO (Chivas USA)
The 20-year-old is one of the USA’s most promising young strikers, but he started out in the back.
“I played center back because I used to be really chubby when I was little,” says Agudelo, now 6-foot-1 and 183 pounds.
At age 8, Agudelo moved to the USA from Colombia, where he played plenty of street soccer.
“I used to always play after school in the street,” he said. “Right away we’d borrow somebody’s shoes or something to make goals in the street and just play for like four hours. Sometimes we’d have to get out of the way when cars came through, but it wasn’t a busy street.”
But Agudelo didn’t have great hopes of being a star when he was very young.
“I didn’t think I was that good at the sport,” Agudelo says. “I thought it was too much running for me because I was really chubby. … [But] I started loving it. Once I started getting pretty good I got attached and started watching a bunch of games and trying to improve myself.”
Fernando Gallego, his youth coach at New Jersey’s PASCO said: “When he was 10, 11, 12 -- he used to practice for hours with other kids doing moves, and this and that. What made him so technically good was playing so much with the ball and working on technical skills.”
Previous editions of the YouthSoccerInsider’s “When They Were Children” series:
Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Danny Welbeck
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Andres Iniesta & Andriy Shevchenko
U.S. Women World Cup 2011 (Alex Morgan & Co.)
Logan Pause, David Ferreira, Fredy Montero, Dwayne De Rosario, CJ Sapong, Perry Kitchen, Tim Ream