Josef Schulz: “What amazed me the most you could speak to this nine-year-old kid about soccer like an adult, who already was in the sport for 30 years,” he said. “He gave answers. He understood the game.” (Photo courtesy of Schulz Soccer Academy)

This story originally was posted on March 24, 2008 

By Michael Lewis

Tampa, Fla. — Ten years ago, Josef Schulz and his wife went for a relaxing walk in a Boca Raton, Fla. park, not realize what they were going to find when they noticed this eight-year-old boy playing soccer in a pick-up game.

Schulz couldn’t believe what he saw — this mere child playing at such a high level.

“I said to my wife, ‘This is not possible, that this is in America,’ ” Schulz said.

“I saw this little child had something special, although it was nothing really organized. I asked a mother there who the child it was and, she introduced me to the father. I said to father of Josmer, ‘Don’t laugh at me. I think your son has all of the ingredients to become a national team player.”

To which the father replied:

“What are you talking about? My kid is eight-years-old.”

But Schulz was persistent.

“I know what I’m talking about,” he told the father. “Bring him to our practices. I think I can do a good job with him. See if he likes it or you like it. I think see something in Jozy which is special.”

Indeed, that eight-year-old was something special — Jozy Altidore, forward for the Red Bulls who helped the United States qualify for the Olympics last week and who scored his first international goal last month.

Joe Altidore brought his son to practice at the Boca Raton Soccer Club and Jozy stayed and developed into the player he is today. After playing for Boca Raton S.C. and the Schulz Soccer Academy for 7 1/2 years, Altidore joined U.S. Soccer’s Under-17 residency in Bradenton, Fla., stood out, was picked by the MetroStars (six weeks before they became the Red Bulls in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.

“When he came to practice. and continued after three, four weeks, I said to my wife: ‘I never believed that some was born to do something,’ ” Schulz said at the United Soccer Leagues office recently. “The first time I saw Jozy, I said to my wife, ‘Now I understand the term, somebody’s born to do something. This is kid is born to become a professional soccer player. He was not (just) the athletic ability. It was not quickness of the run. It was the whole package.’

“I looked at father — tall. I looked at the mother — tall. I looked at the brother — tall. I looked at the sister — tall. I know this player will be giant. You could already see how the family was. The technical ability, the understanding of the game when he was eight-years-old — already was on the level of a 16-year-old.”

Schulz was more impressed with Altidore’s maturity.

“What amazed me the most you could speak to this nine-year-old kid about soccer like an adult, who already was in the sport for 30 years,” he said. “He gave answers. He understood the game. You know he thinks about the game. I looked at him as a partner, not like a nine-year-old child who was learning something new. That was the most amazing — the personality he has.”

In his first two professional seasons, Altidore, now 18, has accomplished much. He was a major reason why the Red Bulls reached the MLS playoffs in 2006, scoring the club’s lone goal in the post-season. He wound up as one of the league’s top goal-scorers last season, connecting nine times in 22 appearances.

“I think he’s been huge,” Altidore said of Schulz. “He really taught me the basics of the game. He taught me the little things that I use now that make me a different player in MLS. He’s a wonderful trainer. He knows so much about the game. He can make you a really better player.”

Altidore returned to visit the Academy last December, something he admitted he doesn’t do enough.

“I don’t stop by as much as I should when I’m down there,” he said. “I’m going to make more of an effort to do that. Not only does he deserve it . . . but (I want) to give something back to see those guys to help get where I am.”

When Schulz talks about Altidore and his potential, he is of course, biased. It shouldn’t be surprising that he sees a big career for Altidore in Europe.

“Jozy is already something very good,” he said. “Out of the players in the last 100 years coming out of U.S. soccer, he’s probably going to be the first one who really makes it as a forward at the top. The U.S. has had forwards. They were extremely successful at the (2002 World Cup) when they went to the quarterfinals without a real forward. They were all this kind of fast, but not a real threat.

“He is the only one who is internationally recognized as a real forward. (Brian) McBride came the closest. But no comparisons to Jozy, who will be (better) in three or four years.”

Schulz felt Altidore will be better than Freddy Adu. It should be noted that Adu was the best American player at the recent Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament, scoring four goals. Altidore, who was considered the U.S.’s most dangerous scoring threat, did not find the back of the net, although he was fouled three times near or in the penalty area, which set up a penalty kick and two free kicks that were turned into goals by Adu.

“When Jozy was 12, everybody was thinking about Adu,” Schulz said. “I always said in Boca Raton, there is a better player in our club that is a better player than Adu. People said, ‘What are you talking about? Are you kidding?’ Adu is very, very good, but he is limited. He is limited when he becomes 17- or 18-years-old. he will be physically limited because he’s not really 12-years-old.”

There had been talk that Adu was several years told than his actual age, but it was never proven.

“When both will be the same age, there will be a difference,” Schulz continued. “I like Adu right now. He’s very good. He has not the same capabilities that Jozy has, just because of the physical appearance. I think the World Cup in 2010, he will be the young player of the tournament like (Lukas) Podolski was. If you compare Podolski and Josmer, I think Josmer is better than Podolski.”

As a 21-year-old, Podolski scored three goals for Germany in the 2006 World Cup and was named the top young player of the tournament. Germany, the cup hosts, finished third in that competition.

Schulz, 56, is a former Austrian First Division player, coach and general manager who earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Vienna in his native Austria. He was Rapid Vienna’s general manager and an assistant coach when it finished second to Everton in the 1985 Cup Winners Cup.

He came to the U.S. 15 years ago to retire. Some retirement. He put together a team that eventually became the Schulz Soccer Academy six years ago.

Schulz was coaching several talented players and some parents wanted him to take their children to the next level in soccer. Altidore was one of them.

“I kind of came here to Florida to retire,” he said. “I never worked so much in my life like the last five years. The main reason was this little group of players who was eight-years-old. The parents said, ‘Why don’t we continue this? Why we kind of don’t we form a bigger club? why don’t we form teams? why don’t we go to national championships and things like this?’ Then it started to become something bigger.”

It certainly has. Schulz Academy has some several USL Super Y League titles, was ranked fifth as one of the top soccer clubs in the nation by Soccer America this year and has sent 17 players to U.S. Soccer’s residency program.