Orestis Sousonis is only 15 years old, but the next five months of his life will be really important for his future.
The New York Red Bulls and U.S. U15 Boys National Team midfielder has interest from Europe, specifically Manchester City, and could be in the line to join the club in the spring.
By virtue of a Greek passport, Sousonis is eligible to make the jump at 16 years old, which he will be on April 24.
“The trial process is a really drawn out thing before any offers are on the table,” Sousonis explained to TopDrawerSoccer.com. “Particularly at my age, they want to see how you develop and thus, they call you over a few times during the process until you are 16 – assuming you possess a European passport.”
The teenager had the chance to train at Manchester City after an agency spotted him at the U.S. U15 Boys National Team camp at the Home Depot Center last year.
“[The agency] recommended Manchester City take a look at me, and they had one of their scouts watch me play for the Red Bulls in New York,” Sousonis said. “I’ve had some contact with professional/academies prior to all the trips and camps but this was pretty serious from the beginning. I went over to train in January of this year.”
His time in Manchester went well, and he showed well in a scrimmage against Everton’s U16 team, so the Liverpool club invited him on a weeklong stint too.
“It was an incredible experience. The difference between Europe and American soccer is enormous. The training, physicality, and intensity of what they do is eye-opening. In Europe, soccer is life or death . . . and to be a part of that makes you see the game entirely different.”
Now, awake to the possibilities, Sousonis is aware of the opportunity ahead of him.
“At the moment, an early 2013 trip is being planned for me and hopefully this next trip will be the most important, or the ‘make or break’ trip. So we have to wait and see.”
As for where he plays on the field, the youngster said he prefers to dictate the game from an attacking position.
“I always feel I play best here when given attacking freedom. On my European trials at Manchester City, I played behind the center forward, the No. 9, in and out of the No. 10 role.”
Sousonis plays predominantly on the wings with the youth national team and his club team.
As a 1997 birth year, he is a year off with the U17 World Cup cycle, but the Federation has said they want to get the group of players born in ’97 into more camps over the next year.
However, Sousonis has yet to hear from the coaches since the last camp in August.
“I’ve had people talk and contact me about representing Greece, but I enjoy representing the USA. This is where I grew up and live; I hope to make the next upcoming camp.”
Jonathan Lama inspires with perseverance
No path to European soccer is easy, but Jonathan Lama may have followed the one with the most resistance.
The teenager is currently in Croatia training in Dinamo Zagreb’s Academy, but his path was full of detours.
Lama was born in Bogota, Colombia, but moved to Bologna, Italy by the age of two to live with his father’s family. At six, he moved back to Colombia.
“Anyone that has lived in Bogota knows that it's not easy living there when you have to watch who's walking behind you all the time,” Lama told TopDrawerSoccer.com “And I lived in a part where you would see a lot of poverty but I think living in cities like this makes you mentally stronger.”
When he was 13 years old, he moved to Naples, Florida, which in turn started this part of his soccer journey.
Lama caught on with a local club called the Naples Sharks. Dr. Josef Schultz spotted him while playing with the Sharks, and asked Lama to join the Schultz Academy, which he attributes much of his success so far to the training he received there.
“He was also one of the essential trainers in my life,” Lama said of Schulz. “And most of the things I do here in training are things I did with Schulz in Boca like a lot of possession and small sided games.”
Charting the journey to Europe from there does not get any easier.
A bit of luck and good timing inspired Lama to attend the open tryouts for Alianza de Futbol in Miami in 2011, where he advanced past thousands of other players to the final game in Los Angeles.
He was spotted by agents and scouts for Dinamo Zagreb during the final competition, and was offered a spot to join the Croatian club’s Academy then.
He temporarily declined in order to finish school, but another opportunity came knocking for Lama before he knew it.
Nike set up a competition called The Chance to find undiscovered talent around the world earlier this year. Lama was one of four players from the United States to make the cut for all-expenses paid trip to Barcelona.
Unfortunately, bad luck sidelined Lama on only the second day of training in Spain when he suffered an ankle injury.
“I appreciate the whole experience and it’s great that Nike has this type of program where you don’t have to pay anything to get exposure. I still keep in touch with the Nike academy coach.
“Also just from being there some more agents got my info and one had really good options and told me to stay in Europe that he would have a team for me in a week.”
The youngster took the agent at his word, but nothing panned out. Eight months after declining the invite to Dinamo Zagreb, he hopefully sent them an email to see if he could tryout again for the club.
“They've been really good with me,” Lama said. “I’m in the Dinamo house [and] there’s about 14-15 people but only two other Americans in my room. Dinamo is the biggest club in Croatia by a lot but the people here are very humble about everything, which is great.”
Lama is only just training with Dinamo at this point. He says he has offers now to go on trial at Deportivo Cali in Colombia, an Italian club, or in Austrian club with former U.S. youth international Alex Molano.