Soccer helped cure homesickness and eased the challenge of adjusting to a new land for a group of young stars we met at this summer's adidas ESP scouting and development camp for the nation's top teen players.
By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America Magazine, May 2007 issue)
Enzo Martinez (Rock Hill, S.C.)
'HOW LUCKY I AM'
When Uruguay played Australia for a spot in the 2006 World Cup, Enzo Martinez got out of bed in his South Carolina house at 4 a.m. to watch on TV. Uruguay lost on penalty kicks.
"I went into the shower and cried for an hour," says Martinez. "I didn't think I'd be able to go to school."
But he did go. By then Martinez had become an enthusiastic student. That wasn't the case when he first arrived from Uruguay at age 10.
His father had left the family shortly after they immigrated, and Enzo was homesick for his soccer-mad native land.
"I didn't care about school or learning English," Martinez said.
His mood changed after he and his younger brother, Alex, discovered that there was soccer in Rock Hill. They went to Kmart and bought the cheapest pair of cleats they could find - an $11 pair of baseball cleats. They shared the pair of cleats for the first month until the coach told them he wanted to see both boys on the field at the same time. So they returned to Kmart for another pair of the baseball cleats.
Enzo, named after the great Uruguayan playmaker Enzo Francescoli, joined the Discoveries Soccer Club, where his coach told him he needed to learn English and do well in school.
"I thought nothing else mattered if you were a good player," says Enzo, who wants to play college soccer. "But now I understand how important studying is."
The 16-year-old uses "yes, sir" like a punctuation mark. After being told he needn't be so formal, he says, "yes, sir." At the ESP camp in Pomona, Calif., he says he can't believe he's playing soccer with "so many good players in such beautiful place with so many great coaches."
"When I first came to the United States," he says. "It was very, very hard. Playing soccer helped me make friends and learn English. Now I can't believe how lucky I am. Yes, sir."
Kaoru Forbess (Garland, Texas)
GOING TO GREAT LENGTHS
Kaoru Forbess says Japanese restaurants in the USA offer him no antidote for homesickness.
"They're expensive and the food doesn't taste real," says Forbess, who left his native Japan at age 13.
The move from Japan was tough on Forbess, who felt confident that he would become a professional player in the J-League. He was thriving in the youth program of J-League club Yokohama F Marinos.
But Forbess' father, Michael, was ready to return to his homeland, and his Japanese mother, Chiyuki, agreed to the move. Michael Forbess had settled in Japan after retiring from the Navy and taught English in a Japanese junior high school.
The family settled in Arkansas. Kaoru joined Little Rock FC, playing up two age groups, and was eager for a more competitive environment. So last year he joined North Texas power Solar FC.
He lives at the home of Solar star Cameron Brown.
The move to Texas meant giving up his mother's Japanese cooking, but Kaoro has always been willing to make sacrifices for his sport. In Japan, he rode the train an hour each way to attend practices in Yokohama.
A high-scoring, creative midfielder who plans on playing at the University of Maryland when he graduates from high school in 2008, Forbess earned a spot on the U.S. U-18 national team - an accomplishment that was rewarded with a trip "home."
"It was a great time," says Forbess, who played in a 1-0 win over Japan at the SBS Cup in Shizuoka. "I got to see family and old friends."
Gale Agbossoumonde (Syracuse, N.Y.)
FINDING SANCTUARY ON THE FIELD
After seven years of living in a Benin refugee camp, 8-year-old Gale Agbossoumonde was excited about moving to the USA. But he was shocked when he got off the plane in New York City.
"I thought I was going to die," says Agbossoumonde, now 15. "Oh my God, it was so cold. I was wearing sandals."
Representatives from Catholic Charities, which had orchestrated the Agbossoumonde family's relocation, quickly took them on a shopping spree for sneakers and winter clothes.
Those sneakers would also become Gale's first soccer shoes. At the refugee camp, soccer was played barefoot, and Gale says he played on sandy lots with children of all ages whenever he wasn't at school.
"We wore T-shirts and drew numbers on them," says Gale. "I was always No. 17, for the Brazilian Denilson. You played whatever position you wanted and I was always a forward."
The Agbossoumonde family arrived at the Benin refugee camp in 1993, the year that 280,000 Togolese fled political violence in their homeland.
Gale's father died a year before Gale, his mother, and six siblings resettled in Syracuse. The French-speaking Gale spoke no English when he enrolled in elementary school.
"Some of the kids made fun of me," he said. "But some helped me a lot."
Gale and his brothers were recruited by Syracuse Blitz SC after being spotted playing ball at Barry Park on Syracuse's East Side.
Gale, now a defender, joined the U-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., last January.
Walter Hines (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
REDISCOVERING THE GAME
He had just become a teenager and received an invitation to join Costa Rica's youth national team program when his father, William, made an announcement that did not please Walter Hines.
"All of a sudden my dad said he wanted to move to New York," says Walter, who arrived in Brooklyn at age 13 and is now 17. "I was settled. I was going to join the national team. Then everything changed. I had to learn a new language and face many challenges."
William went to work as a butler in a Manhattan mansion while Walter pined for his happier soccer-playing days. In the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, Walter played ball since he can remember, in the streets and on concrete courts. He first played on grass when he joined a team at age 9.
His new life in New York brightened when his father told him he met a man who arranged a tryout for Walter with a youth team. He joined the Brooklyn Patriots and soon his career was back on track. He starred at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, earned Parade Magazine High School All-American honors, and climbed the ODP ranks to the U.S. U-15 national team. He now plays in the New York Red Bulls' youth program, and although his aim while in Costa Rica was to go straight to the pros, he's eying college soccer.
"I want to get an education," he says, "then see if there are pro opportunities."
(This article originally appeared in the August 2007 issue of Soccer America magazine.)