By Mike Woitalla
One of the more enjoyable parts of interviewing stars is hearing anecdotes from their youth soccer days. Here are some from this season’s MLS players:
WINNING CAME LATER. Chicago Fire captain Logan Pause recalled his teen years with Carolina United, coached by Elmar Bolowich.
“I didn’t win a state cup once,” Pause said, “but we had a fantastic training environment and a lot of guys developed in that and took it to the next level. Those years were really when I put a lot of energy and focus into developing my game, and Elmar was a big part of it. We were probably one of the most talented teams never to win a thing, but six, seven guys went on to play collegiate Division I ball.”
Pause, now in his ninth MLS season, won the NCAA Division I title at UNC (also coached by Bolowich) and with the Fire lifted two U.S. Open Cups and a Supporter’s Shield.
BOUNCING BACK. FC Dallas’ David Ferreira, the 2010 league MVP, played soccer barefoot on the streets of his hometown of Santa Marta, Colombia.
“One time I slipped and broke my arm,” he recalls. “Right after I got my cast on, I was playing again, because I always love soccer.”
Since arriving in MLS in 2009, Ferreira has been fouled more than any other player, yet he’s started in 68 straight MLS games.
DISTURBING THE NEIGHBORS. Another Colombian star, Fredy Montero, painted a goal on the wall in the backyard of his home in Campo de la Cruz when he was 7.
“My brother was always the goalkeeper,” Montero says. “I scored many, many goals, and I would have problems with my neighbor, with the people who lived next to us. Because whenever I scored it went ‘Boom!’ The sound was really, really bad.”
Montero led the Colombian league twice in scoring by age 20 before in 2009 joining the Seattle Sounders, which he's led in scoring the last two seasons.
THE JOY OF SOCCER. New York Red Bulls playmaker Dwayne De Rosario, who has won four MLS titles with San Jose and Houston, remembered pickup games in Scarborough, Canada:
“We played in the streets, in yards, on fields, in parking lots, at recreation centers, in the lobbies of apartment buildings. There were no restrictions on who played. There’d be little kids and old men. It was play with no stress. Pure joy."
JUGGLING SPORTS: CJ Sapong, a Virginia product whom Sporting Kansas City grabbed with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 SuperDraft, signed up for soccer, basketball and baseball when he was 6:
“It's funny, I'd play a half (of soccer), and my baseball game would be just across the street and I'd go play a couple of innings there, and (then) I'd make it just in time for my basketball game. I remember wearing my basketball jersey underneath my baseball jersey sometimes, just hop in the car and go straight to the (basketball) court, play a couple of quarters and then straight to the soccer game.”
He focused on soccer in high school. “Being that my parents are from Ghana, [soccer’s] what they knew,” he said, “and that's what my dad could help me with when I got home.”
IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT. D.C. United’s 19-year-old rookie defender Perry Kitchen started playing when he was 5 and was allowed to move up to a higher age group only because, as his father Chris explains, “After the first game, every little kid on the other team was crying. Perry had decided he was always going get he ball and score.”
Once he entered his teens, Perry joined the Chicago Magic, which meant a commute of more than three hours from their Indianapolis home.
Said Chris, “Perry learned to drive when he was pretty young. I'd say, ‘Perry, I’m tired. You’re driving,' and got in the passenger's seat."
BACKYARD KEEPAWAY: New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream, whose rookie performance in 2010 led to national team duty, had the advantage of growing up with plenty of siblings to play ball with at his St. Louis home:
“I’m the oldest of five children. We always played in the backyard. We had a kick-back net. We were always shooting on each other. Always trying to make each other look foolish. We played four vs. one. Keepaway from the little ones. See what they can do.”
COLLATERAL DAMAGE. A.J. Soares, a first-round draft pick by the New England Revolution out of Cal, broke cabinet doors and shot a perfect circle through a window of his home at age 5 while launching his career.
“My dad made me fix the window,” says Soares. “He helped, of course.”
His taste for glory came, “When I was 12 in the Surf soccer tournament, I scored a great goal from the outside. At the time, I thought there were a lot of fans there. Maybe there were 20, 30 people. They were all cheering and that’s a feeling you get attached to. People cheering for you and your team winning a game. That feeling is something I try to feel everyday.”
(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for East Bay United in Oakland, Calif. His youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)