Not Just for Kicks

As a minority recruiter for the U.S. national soccer team, Juan Carlos Michia doesn't just love soccer, he lives it

Michia's face lights up at the thought of harnessing all the talent already out there. "What other country in the world has our resources?" he asks. "We've got players from every country on Earth already living here. Some know how to play the Brazilian style, some play the European way. We already have the American style from the suburbs. If we get these people together, we will be unstoppable."

Michia works out of an office in his three-bedroom condo in West Kendall, just off the Florida Turnpike. He likes to spend his mornings drinking Argentine tea while filling out paperwork or returning phone calls. In the afternoons he'll grab a cup of café cubano from La Carreta before picking up his daughter from school. At night he'll probably catch a high school or local club game. If there's no game to see in person, he'll usually pull down a match off the satellite dish. Brazil's first division, Argentina's first division, Peru, Italy, the Premier League in England, it doesn't matter.

Michia (right) playing for the New York Arrows, one of many teams in his thirteen-year American career
photo courtesy Juan Carlos Michia
Michia (right) playing for the New York Arrows, one of many teams in his thirteen-year American career
Michia and Juliette, with daughter Alexa and the world's youngest Boca Junior fan
Steve Satterwhite
Michia and Juliette, with daughter Alexa and the world's youngest Boca Junior fan

"Compared to five years ago, now we can watch a lot of soccer on TV," he crows. "Definitely when the best team in the world is on, Boca Junior from Argentina, I don't need anybody around me. I just want to watch the game. That is when my fanatic passions come out. When my son was born, I make 25 to 30 phone calls to my friends. 'By the way,' I tell them, 'there's another Boca Junior fan in the world.' I love to watch them play. That for me is Heaven."

Michia grew up in Quilmes, Argentina, in a house twenty blocks from the brewery that promotes the town's name. At age twenty he won a spot on the Quilmes club team in the second division of Argentina's professional league. He was a good player, though no superstar. "I was always very realistic," he says of his talent level. "I remember my brain wants to do something, but my feet didn't want to do it that much. So that's when I start to play smart. I knew my strength: that I have a good vision of the game and have good skill. My problem is my right foot is only for walking around. I can't even use it. I didn't have a very powerful shot."

From an early age Michia knew he didn't have what it takes to play for the vaunted Argentine national team. Simply staying on with Quilmes would have been a struggle. When a recruiter from the now-defunct North American Soccer League (NASL) offered Michia a position on the Houston Hurricanes, he bit. "I came solo," he recalls. "I mean, I didn't even know how to speak English. I didn't even know about the U.S. I was so much into soccer and into my future life, and I was waiting for a chance just to play. I think most people who come over here want to live over here. Because you have a good life. If you work hard, you have a good life."

He arrived in 1979, during soccer's first big American boom. Playing in the NASL he battled stars such as Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff. After the Hurricanes folded in 1980, Michia hooked up with the indoor leagues that flourished at the time. Among his clubs were the New York Arrows, the Chicago Horizons, and the Baltimore Blast, with whom he won a championship. In time his skills declined. He moved back to defense from his position quarterbacking the offense in the midfield. "If I didn't quit when I was 33, I was going to end up playing goalkeeper," he jokes. "I got too old to run. I said, 'I have to quit for the good of the game.'"

Michia decided to stay in the United States when his career ended. It's hard to leave when you've lived in one place for fourteen years, he explains. Five years ago, when visiting a friend in New Jersey, he met his wife, a pretty blonde who hails from Sarasota. They soon married, then moved to Miami. Michia coached club, high school teams, and a semi-pro team. He also worked on the Copa Latina, an annual grassroots tournament featuring dozens of different Miami club teams, each representing different homelands. It was this job that put him on the U.S. Soccer Federation's radar.

"It's funny to me how I got the job," he recalls. "I never interviewed with any of the state or regional soccer organizations, yet four years ago at the national coach's convention in Philadelphia, I met a guy from the federation, and we started talking about the Copa Latina. He asked me to send him a résumé, so I did. Very quickly I'm being interviewed by Steve Sampson and I got the job."

The work keeps him occupied with soccer seven days a week, and on the road much of the time. His appointment book is resplendent in fluorescent yellow ink. Each highlighted date indicates a road trip. "Three weeks ago I was in Chicago and Milwaukee attending tryouts," he says, flipping through the book. "I saw some good players. Two weeks ago I was in Baltimore at the national coaches' convention. I got so many business cards you would not believe! Then last week I was in New York, where I saw players from Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Poland, Colombia, and from the U.S. I also met with coaches and set up a tryout on Randall's Island for April. I stayed at my friend's house because the money I saved will let me go see other kids in El Paso, Texas, in the next two or three months. If I'd rented a hotel room, I wouldn't be able to make the extra trip."

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