Path to the pros

U.S. striker Jozy Altidore recalls the days before he got paid to play

Updated: June 26, 2013, 1:55 PM ET
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN The Magazine

AltidoreGetty ImagesAltidore has been on the field since he was just three.

The beginning

I played soccer when I was 3 years old. That was my first taste of organized sports. I didn't get picked to play on my first serious travel team until a soccer coach named Josef Schulz spotted me playing in a park when I was 8. Josef told my parents, "I can make your son into a World Cup player." My parents were obviously excited, and they brought me to his academy.

The middle school days

I didn't have to travel far to play for the Schulz Academy, but I did need some type of discount because we couldn't afford it. So Josef offered to let me train with the academy for cheaper than other kids. I learned so much there. Josef used to always tell me that when you get to the highest level, you have to do the little things on your own. I didn't really understand what he meant until I got to Europe.

The high school years

At 14 or 15, I chose to attend IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., over playing basketball in high school. I'm not saying I was the next Jordan, but I loved the game. When I got to Bradenton, my initial goal was to get a college scholarship. I never thought about going pro. I was born in 1989, so I was too young to play with players born in 1988 on the FIFA U17 World Cup team. If you don't play on that team, you don't get scouted as much.

So I was doing college visits, trying to decide which school would be right for me. I remember American University offered a really good package. I was just looking for the best option financially. And then Eric Lichaj, who's played in the English Premier League, got injured and I got an invite to play on that U17 World Cup team in 2005.

I got scouted, but I still didn't think I would go pro. Some agents told my parents, "Your son can play in the MLS if you guys want to make it happen." Even then, my parents thought it was better for me to get an education. It wasn't until I knew there was a possibility of going to the Red Bulls that I really took the agents seriously. After I was offered a Generation adidas contract to sign with MLS, it was a no-brainer.

More rising stars retrace their paths to the pros:

Maya Gabeira | Paul Goldschmidt | Brandon Jennings | Cam Newton | Jozy Altidore | Ashton Eaton | Maya Moore | Michael Crabtree | Ian Kinsler | C.J. Wilson | Nnamdi Asomugha | Bernard Pollard | Richard Seymour | Michelle Wie | Brittany Lincicome | Gordon Hayward | DeMarcus Cousins | Matt Flynn | Jairus Byrd | Rey Maualuga | Domata Peko | Le'Ron McClain | Glen Perkins | Jeff Halpern | Jay Feely

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Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.