Domenic Mobilio was 19 years old and an instant star in the Major Soccer League when the city of Baltimore stole his fancy.
But his heart still belonged to his hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia. That is where Mobilio's close-knit Italian family remained when he became a pro soccer player for the Baltimore Blast.
Also left behind in Vancouver were his high school sweetheart and his Jeep.
Now after three years, 131 goals, 73 assists and thousands of screams from admiring teeny-bopper soccer fans, Mobilio finds his heart being tugged toward Baltimore.
The Blast forward has moved from Towson to downtown Baltimore and said yesterday he wants to lay down some more roots here.
"I'd like to have my first soccer camp for youngsters next spring in the Baltimore area, and I'd like to have my contract for next year settled before the end of the season," said Mobilio, who is off to a fast start (five goals, three assists in three games) in his fourth season with the Blast.
"I want to see how kids react to my camp," said Mobilio, who is tied for the MSL scoring lead with Tatu and Kevin Smith of the Dallas Sidekicks. "I know how much I would have appreciated going to a soccer camp run by a professional player when I was a kid."
Mobilio, 22, is also talking like a player who wants to spend his entire career with the Blast.
"I want to be in Baltimore next season, and I can't see myself ever playing anywhere else," he said. "As long as I give the kind of hard-working performance that fits into Kenny Cooper's system, I know they will want to sign me. The five guys he brought back this season all fit into the Blast system."
Three times, Mobilio has passed up more money from other MSL teams to play for the Blast.
In his rookie season, the now-defunct Los Angeles Lazers offered him more money, but Mobilio said he chose Baltimore on the recommendation of former Blast midfielder Carl Valentine.
Valentine plays outdoor soccer with Mobilio for the Vancouver 86ers in the Canadian Soccer League.
The next season, the expansion Cleveland Crunch came up with what Mobilio called an "unbelievable offer."
"But I turned it down because I felt comfortable in Baltimore," he said.
Last season, it was the Tacoma Stars who made Mobilio a better financial offer to perform in a city that is only a three-hour drive from Vancouver.
That offer seemed to be a natural one to take, thought Mobilio's family and friends.
But once again Mobilio decided to remain in Baltimore.
"My friends couldn't understand why I didn't take the Tacoma offer," said Mobilio. "But Baltimore has always treated me well, and I know they will take care of me as long as I keep doing the job for them."
Cooper said he sees no reason why Mobilio "couldn't start and finish his career here. He's a soccer star in this city and he knows the rewards are there for an athlete who makes a name for himself in Baltimore."
On the field, Cooper said that Mobilio has learned to fight off the physical beating that opponents have been giving him since an outstanding rookie year.
"If Dom stays healthy, he'll go down as one of the great finishers in the league," Cooper said. "He has great touch, good awareness, is deadly in the penalty box with either foot, finds the corners of the goal and has the ability to disguise where he's going to put the ball."
But neither Cooper nor Mobilio believes he has reached his peak.
"He's still a young man with unlimited potential," Cooper said.
Mobilio's quick start this season has already enabled him to jump past Dave MacWilliams and Joey Fink into sixth place on the all-time Blast scoring list (131 goals, 73 assists for 204 points).
If Mobilio continues at his current scoring pace, he would pass Stan Stamenkovic (130 goals, 199 assists for 329 points) as Baltimore's all-time scoring leader at the end of next season.
"I don't think about that," said Mobilio. "But it does seem a little unbelievable."