Tom Dooley was supposed to move to the United States at age 1. He didn't step on U.S. soil until he was 30, but became a key player in the nation's soccer history and has now planted roots in Southern California.
Dooley, the only player who started all U.S. games at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, was born to a U.S. serviceman and a German mother in Bechhofen, Germany, in 1961.
His father had left his German wife, Alice, Tom and his older brother, Steven, in Germany with the promise that he'd send for them after he found a place to live. They never heard from him again.
So Tom grew up as a fairly typical German boy. He and Steven played pickup soccer at a nearby field, came home for lunch when their mom called, then returned to the game. The Dooley boys and their stepfather followed the Bundesliga closely and Tom dreamed of becoming a pro.
He realized the dream at age 22, when he signed for FC Homburg. He moved onto Kaiserslautern, which he helped win the 1990 league championship and 1991 cup title.
Three times he came close to a German national team selection, and each time suffered an injury before training camp.
Then, in December of 1991 he got a call at 4:30 a.m. from his friend Michael Becker, a player agent. Becker had met Jennifer Hemmer, who worked for U.S. Soccer's marketing division. While in Germany, Hemmer noticed Dooley's American surname while attending a Kaiserslautern game and queried Becker.
"Are you sitting down," Becker asked Dooley during the early morning call. "No! I'm sleeping," Dooley replied. Becker explained to Dooley the possibility of him representing the USA and asked if he was interested. "Of course," said Dooley.
Dooley stepped into a starting role on Bora Milutinovic's team, on which the attack-minded defender was the team's most experienced player.
A year before the 1994 World Cup, the defender scored in a 2-0 win over England and scored twice in a 4-3 loss to Germany. He joined the U.S. residency camp in 1993 and said at the time that he could see himself settling in the USA.
A defensive midfielder on the squad that reached the second round of the 1994 World Cup, Dooley returned to Germany to play for Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke 04. He captained the USA's 1998 World Cup team and played in MLS from 1997 to 2001 for Columbus and the MetroStars.
That his youngest son, Dennis, was losing his German fluency helped Dooley decide to return to Germany, where he coached FC Saarbruecken for two years. He returned with his family to Southern California in 2003 and founded the Orange County Kings youth club. He also works for Match Analysis, the video and statistical tool invented by Mark Brunkhart whose clients include 12 MLS teams. Dooley headed the firm's move into Europe.
In 2006, Dooley founded American Soccer-Tennis Organization (ASTO).
"Soccer-Tennis has real soccer game situations with no pressure from the opponent," Dooley says. "That means it's a great game to develop touch on the ball. The fast pace of the game creates many repetitions that allow a player to develop ball skills, technique and anticipation."
Soccer tennis was part of Dooley's training with Bundesliga clubs, and it was a favorite of Milutinovic. By organizing tournaments and exhibitions - the U.S. Invitational last year in Los Angeles featured world stars such as Aldair, Paulo Sergio and Luis Hernandez - Dooley aims to popularize the game at all levels in the USA.
"It's the most exciting training exercise, and it's the best one to learn technique," Dooley says. "Improving technique is the most important thing young American players need to keep this country advancing as a soccer nation."
(This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Soccer America magazine.)