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Unknown U.S. teen prospect lands pro soccer shot in Argentina

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A year ago, Nick May was packing his bag for the first day of his junior year at Oviedo (Fla.) High School. Now, he's packing his bags for the start of a big step toward his dream of a professional soccer career after agreeing to play with the youth academy of Estudiantes, among of the most successful teams in Argentina, after a brief dalliance with one of the richest soccer teams in the world.

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How did an unknown soccer prospect from Central Florida go from fighting for a role in the Florida state Olympic Development Program to a spot among the top prospects of one of South America's most storied programs? May's story is one of opportunism and the surging confidence of a talented teenager.

"Last summer I was playing with the Florida state Olympic Development Program, and I had this coach who told any boys who wanted to go to Argentina to go talk to him," May said in a telephone interview with Prep Rally. "I talked to him and he got me set up with Estudiantes, and I trained down there for a couple of weeks.

"When that first trial period was over, the coaches said I was welcome back any time, so I talked to the same contact this year and went back down for four weeks."

The contact May referred to was Robert Chambers of Pro Goals Sports, a London-based soccer agency that is expanding into the American youth-soccer market. Chambers, Pro Goals' American director, has worked to try and jump-start the development of young American players by helping prospects with the size, skill and the right personality to get out of the American system itself and start their professional career on the same developmental schedule as European teens.

[Related: Soccer star almost quit to become a salami salesman]

May is among Pro Goals Sports' first successful American developmental players, but his immediate success at Estudiantes didn't guarantee the 6-foot-4 defender would stay in Argentina. Instead, May's success sparked interest from Queens Park Rangers, a London-based team in England's Championship (the second division of English soccer). Despite it's position in the English second division, QPR is known as one of the richest clubs in the world because it is co-owned by Lakshmi Mittal, an Indian steel magnate who lives near the club's Loftus Road home field in West London. Mittal is one of the world's richest men, as are QPR co-owners Flavio Briatore, an Italian tycoon, and Bernie Ecclestone, who controls and runs Formula One racing.

Not surprisingly, May viewed a move to QPR as an attractive possibility, and jumped at the offer of a trial with the club. May jetted from Argentina to London, and immediately impressed the club's youth academy directors, earning a start in a QPR youth-team game against rival London Championship squad Crystal Palace.

May's size and ability to deal with the speed of English soccer so quickly nearly earned him a permanent spot with QPR, but when the club inquired about getting him a visa to stay with the team and train, they were told May's lack of international experience would be a prohibitive problem.

"He's been there, they like him a lot, he played with the first team, he played with the youth team against Crystal Palace, but the thing with him is investigating getting his work permit," Chambers said. "They liked him, they want to keep track of him, but they're not going to be able to keep him because they didn't think he could walk into the first team today. They didn't think they could justify that he could walk into the first team right now."

It's possible that May could move into the first team at Estudiantes sooner, which is why he's back in Argentina, hoping for another chance to impress other European scouts who scour South America for young talent. Estudiantes won the 2009 Copa Libertadores -- the South American Champions League -- and have emerged as one of the hottest teams in South America, setting the stage for constant scouting from Europe's biggest clubs.

Given his size, speed and ability to adapt -- he says that he communicates fluently on the field with teammates despite only learning high school Spanish -- May could be headed back to Europe sooner rather than later.

"I was kind of surprised this all happened." May said. "I never really expected this. When I went over to Argentina I wasn't thinking I'd get a chance to go over to England. But I took the chances, and my ultimate goal is to end up there.

"I think the weirdest was that I was able to compete in these different environments. When I was over in England, I never thought I'd be able to go over there, let alone compete with those players. But I went over there and the coaches really liked me.

"It would be my senior year at Oviedo High. I would be graduating in the class of 2011. It's a little weird since I've been there for three years, but it's my dream to go play soccer and play professionally, and I think this is one of the best ways to do it. I can deal with it because this is what I really wanted."

Photo courtesy Robert Chambers and Pro Goals Sports.

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