Wilmer Cabrera made history 15 years ago.  (Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

This story was posted on BigAppleSoccer.com on Oct. 26, 2007

By Michael Lewis

When he emigrated to the United States from his native Colombia some four years ago, Wilmer Cabrera wasn’t a blip on anyone radar’s screen as someone who had the potential to make an impact in American soccer.

After all, he knew little about U.S. soccer and just as importantly, very little about the language.

But in a demonstration on how someone can learn quickly and move up the ladder almost just as fast, Cabrera today finds himself as the U.S. Under-17 coach after he was named to that position by U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati Thursday.

“To come as far as he has come in such a short period of time – he has been an outsider – is phenomenal,” said B.W. Gottschee Academy coordinator Milton Espinoza, Jr., who has worked with Cabrera at the Cosmopolitan Junior Soccer League club.

“It encapsulates the American dream.”

Not bad for a Colombian, not bad at all.

In the past three years Cabrera became fluent in English to go along with his Spanish, played and then retired from professional soccer here, earned his A coaching license, coached the Under-18 team at B.W. Gottschee, had been an Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association ODP staff coach before his appointment as the first Hispanic national coach in U.S. Soccer.

“The guy is continuously moving forward,” Espinoza said.

Many of Cabrera’s colleagues have been impressed with his communication skills and his ability to teach the game in a fun way to players.

“The kids respond to him,” Major League Soccer director of player programs Alfonso Mondelo said.

“He’s a very good teacher,” said Gottschee college coordinator Scott Knight, who had Cabrera take over his team. “He’s able to get across aspects in training sessions other people can’t. . . . He’s very much a player’s coach. He lets them play.

“He has been able to do in this country what not many people have done — tap into the ethnic kids and get the most out of them.”

Gottschee youth director Ben Boehm has noticed that as well.

“He can take an average player and improve his skills,” he said. “He can take a good player and improve his skills. The same for above average and top players.

“I’ve seen him take kids who have limitations and change the make-up. He’s going to do that at the national level. I just wish we had more high-quality coaches at this level.

“If you’re looking at coaches in the last 40 years, I would have to rank him in the top five.”

Strong statement.

Cabrera, however, can be strict, said Big Apple Youth Soccer League president Luis Montoya, who has seen the Colombian native in action with Gottschee, the Under-18 team as an assistant coach and at the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla.

“The guy is very easy-going, very personable,” he said.

But . . .

“He is strict. He tells you once. He doesn’t like to tell you a second time,” Montoya said.

Added Boehm: “He works them hard, but they enjoy it. It’s not work. It’s enjoyment.”

For someone who knew a just smattering of English four years ago, Cabrera has made some great strides since then.

“He made it a real effort to educate himself,” Mondelo said. “If you have the greatest ideas in the world and you can’t express them, it’s very difficult.”

Montoya felt Cabrera’s inclusion as U-17 coach was vital at that particular age group. He noted that the U.S. U-17 teams usually “can play with anyone in the world. After U-17 it changes.”

Cabrera’s soccer resume is impressive, having played for America de Cali and Millonarios in Colombia, performing in two Under-20 World Cups. He also was a part of two World Cup teams and made 48 full international appearances.

While soccer is an important facet of his life, Cabrera found time to pursue other interests. He attended college in Colombia and has a license to fly a helicopter license and served in the military, Espinoza said.

“He’s got a very diverse background,” he said. “He never put his eggs in one basket.”

The fact he has also played professionally in the U.S. and coaches here have gone a long way as well.

“He understands the system in this country, and he knows what is needed,” Knight said.

Cabrera is married and has three children — two sons and a daughter.

Cabrera was unavailable for comment. He did not return phone calls Thursday.

“He’s very excited,” Knight said. “He believes in his ability.”

Cabrera signed a two-year contract and will move to Bradenton, Fla., headquarters of the U.S. residency program next week, Knight said. His first order of business is to select his four-man coaching staff.

“It cannot be happening to a better individual,” Knight said. “He deserves every bit and even more.”