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

Nick Megaloudis, an assistant coach with the Miami Fusion franchise, nods. He knows all about scouting for talent in Miami's soccer-crazed ethnic subcultures. Yesterday, during the opening session of the tournament, Megaloudis found a goalkeeper. The kid was only nineteen years old. "He was real raw, but he had all the tools," Megaloudis recalls. "So I went up to him and I asked him if he was an American. He says no, he's a Mexican. I asked him where he was born. He says Texas."

Michia smiles in recognition. He runs into this problem all the time: players not thinking of themselves as Americans, even though they've lived their entire lives in the United States. "He comes from Homestead," Megaloudis continues. "It's a city that's kind of unknown, even in Dade County, you know; it's all the way down there. And the kid is content just playing soccer. He doesn't know he has potential, that this could be a career."

Someone notes that the U.S. men's team defeated Chile the night before, in Chile. It was the first victory in five years for a U.S. team playing in South America. In January the United States came from behind to tie Iran, one of the teams that beat them in the World Cup. New head coach Bruce Arena's record with the national team is 8-4-4, with wins over Germany and Argentina. The team is again ranked among the top 25 in the world. More important to Michia, the under-seventeen national team finished fourth out of sixteen teams competing in last year's World Youth Cup in New Zealand. An under-fifteen national team recently completed a successful tour of Mexican club teams.

Two youth teams take the field for a halftime scrimmage. Tiny boys with shorts hanging down to their ankles crisscross the field wildly. Tom Mulroy heads off to talk to a referee. Megaloudis moves away to chat with a friend. Alone in the bleachers, Michia leans forward. Instinctively his eyes scan the field. "I'm so happy to have this position," he says suddenly. "I feel so strong about it. I feel it is so important. Not only for Spanish kids but for everyone. For China, Japan, Africa, the Caribbean. I always said this country is for everyone. It should be for everyone in soccer, too."

On the field a tiny Haitian boy delivers a pass right to the feet of a teammate. "There! Look!" shouts Michia, almost leaping out of his seat. "That's the best thing I've seen all day!"

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