By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America Magazine, November 2007 issue)
Josef Schulz once spent two years traveling the world scouting young soccer talent. But on this day, nine years ago, he was just taking a walk with his wife, Barbara, in their Boca Raton, Fla., neighborhood.
They stopped to watch a pickup game and Schulz spotted an exceptional 8-year-old.
"I asked my wife, 'Do I see this right or am I dreaming?'" Schulz recalls.
The boy was Josmer "Jozy" Altidore, a New Jersey-born son of Haitian immigrants whose family had relocated in South Florida. Schulz, in the midst of launching the youth club that would become the Schulz Academy, approached Jozy's father.
"You might laugh at what I am about to say," Schulz said to Joseph Altidore, "but one day your son is going to be on the U.S. national team. Bring him to our practice and see if you like it."
Schulz had six players and entered 3-vs.-3 tournaments. He eventually fielded full teams. In 2004, Altidore helped the Schulz Academy win the first of three straight Super-Y-League North American Championships.
The Schulz Academy now has about 300 players and fields teams in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for U-16 and U-18 boys. In 2007 it was ranked 19th in Soccer America's Top 20 Boys Clubs.
"We try to teach offensive and attractive soccer," says Schulz, "and I am sure the combination of Brazilian Samba, and the method of Holland, which we teach since the beginning in our Academy, is a good mix for the future elite player."
Altidore joined the U-17 national residency in Bradenton, Fla., played in the 2005 U-17 World Cup, and became an MLS teen-age sensation for the New York Red Bulls. At last summer's U-20 World Cup, he scored four goals, and at age 17, appears on the brink of a full national team call-up.
Discovering Altidore confirmed the hunch Schulz had when he moved from Europe 15 years ago -- that the USA was the new frontier for soccer talent.
Schulz played 13 years of First Division ball in his native Austria while acquiring a doctoral degree in economics at the University of Vienna. At age 29, he left the field at Vienna FC to become its coach and general manager. He moved to Rapid Vienna and was its general manager and assistant coach as it finished runner-up to Everton in the 1985 Cup Winners' Cup.
Schulz had also started a sports agency. One the first clients was 1978 World Cup-winning Argentine striker Mario Kempes. The agency eventually represented 60 players and Schulz scoured the world for young talent.
Schulz first settled in Florida to launch an academy in Palm Beach Garden for youth players from countries around the world. He was then contacted by tennis guru Nick Bollettieri to create a soccer department at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. After a couple years, Schulz sold his interest in the academy and moved back to his favorite area, South Florida, where he believed he could develop future pros and national team stars.
"The multi-national influence in South Florida makes it an excellent breeding ground for soccer players," says Schulz, who speaks English, German, Spanish, Greek, French, a little Italian, and is working on Portuguese.
The Schulz philosophy is to focus on individual development until players reach their teens.
"Before that, we don't have team practices," he says. "We'll take 40 boys to the field ages 9 to 13, with eight coaches, and work on individual skills. When they play small-sided games, they're still in mixed age groups."
The Schulz Academy, many of whose coaches are imported from Brazil, has been consistently feeding players into the U.S. youth national team program. This year four players joined the U-17 national team residency: Zach Herold, Donovan Henry, Stefan Jerome and Brian Sylvestre.
"The key is knowing how much to coach a player," says Schulz. "With a guy like Altidore, why would I tell him what to do in a certain situation when he's better at it than I am?"
(This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Soccer America magazine.)