Soto credits father for leading the way

Academy product turned down professional deal as teenager to pursue education

HOU_20110119_Soto_Kinnear

Photo Credit: 
Wilf Thorne / Houston Dynamo

Imagine being offered a professional soccer contract prior
to entering high school.

Then imagine being told you had to turn it down.

That was the situation for Josue Soto when he was growing up
in Monterrey, Mexico. Offered a professional
contract to play for Monterrey’s
U-20 team, Soto turned it down at the urging of his father, Rogelio, who wanted
his son to continue his education.

“I wanted to play soccer, but my dad said, ‘No,’ because he
wanted me to go to Prepa Tec, which is a very good private high school in Mexico,” the
younger Soto said. “At the time I was upset, but I had a great time at
Prepa Tec, so I don’t regret it. I became a better player playing for my high
school team just from the environment, because it was more relaxed.”

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He may have been relaxed, but Soto still brought his game on
the field, helping Prepa Tec to the 2005 national championship, and thoroughly
enjoyed his time there. His father, meanwhile, who has a Ph.D. in linear
control, was thinking of ways for Josue to pursue both soccer and studies in the United States,
where Josue had been born.

“In Mexico
it’s harder to do both – play pro soccer and go to school,” Soto said. “He
wanted me to do both, and the U.S.
offered that option. Since I am an American citizen, he found out about ODP.”

ODP is U.S. Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program,
created to identify top talent. To try out for American ODP programs, the Soto
family would often drive 8-10 hours from Monterrey
to San Antonio, Austin,
or Houston for
weekend tryouts and training sessions, then drive back on Sunday nights. Soto stood out enough to make the South Texas ODP team and
eventually a regional ODP team, which led to a call to the United States U-18
national team camp in Carson,
Calif.

“That first year was crazy, because at the beginning of the
year I didn’t know if I would make the regional ODP team, and by the end of the
year I was with the national team,” Soto said.

That introduction to the American soccer system wound up
being Soto’s ticket to further opportunities as well. He was offered a
scholarship to Campbell University in North Carolina based on his performance
at a regional ODP camp, and his ODP coach – James Clarkson – was hired in late
2006 as the Dynamo’s Director of Youth Development. One of his first calls was
to Soto.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to become part of a
professional club,” Soto said. “Having that connection would be good, and James
told me I would get a chance to train with the first team, and that was
impressive to me. I didn’t think twice about it and joined right away.”

Soto’s older brother, Daniel, lives in the Houston area with his wife, so Soto was able
to stay there when training with the Dynamo. It also helped that some of the Dynamo Academy’s
first competitive games were in Monterrey
against Rayados, allowing Soto to play close to home. He then led the Dynamo to
the Dallas Cup championship game in the spring of 2007, although even now he grimaces
at the thought of his missed penalty kick in a shootout, ironically on the same
field where the Dynamo won their first MLS Cup in a shootout.

In two years at Campbell,
Soto helped the Camels to the NCAA tournament and a school-record winning streak
as a regular starter. After finishing fourth in the country in assists per game
in 2008 as a sophomore, he decided to transfer to SMU to take on better
competition.

In the mean time, he trained throughout the summer of 2008
with the Dynamo first team, a task he repeated in 2010 after missing the summer
of 2009 due to injury. Those experiences – Soto was the only college player to
make it through the whole summer each time – proved his worth to the Dynamo
staff, which also kept a close eye on his college performance.

“On the first day [with the Dynamo], the pace and the
fitness side of it were on a different level,” Soto said. “It was something I’d
never experienced before. Those summers helped me to see what I needed to do to
get there.”

After the 2010 NCAA season, in which Soto led SMU to the
national quarterfinals, came to an end, Soto found himself in another unique
position. He was the first player in MLS history to complete his collegiate
eligibility and be offered a contract as a home-grown player, bypassing the MLS
SuperDraft.

With the paperwork new for everybody, he played at the MLS
Player Combine – his AdiPure team won the combine title – even while discussing
options with the Dynamo. Finally, the day before the draft, the Dynamo and MLS
made Soto an offer and removed his name from consideration for the draft.

“I always had a good feeling about it, thinking I would stay
in Houston,”
Soto said. “But it’s definitely a relief to finally sign and be part of the
team.”

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Josue Soto’s professional soccer career has finally begun,
some seven years after his first opportunity at a professional contract. And he
now has a message for his father:

“Thanks for being wise and making a great decision I
couldn’t have done myself.”