Goals point to Holland Immersion: Danny Levin, 15, of Westminster is taking a road little-traveled by young soccer hopefuls in this country, spending much of the next year in a European program.

July 28, 1998|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Danny Levin was supposed to be a junior at McDonogh this fall, but instead, the 15-year-old from Westminster will be in the Netherlands, honing his considerable soccer skills at a new, pro-underwritten level.

Leaving next Monday, Levin will spend at least the next six months, and likely the school year, in a program run by FC Utrecht, a team in Holland's top pro league.

He will live with house parents and other players his age. "I already know one's from Brazil and another is from Nigeria," he said. Mornings will be devoted to academic classes, afternoons and evenings to soccer.

Deep into November and likely resuming early next spring, he'll compete on a Utrecht team against other similarly backed teams. He'll retain amateur status, though, and, having skipped a year academically earlier in his schooling, is planning to return home to graduate with his original class.

Levin is joining select company, those few Americans who have left home at a young age to broaden their soccer skills year-round in programs abroad unlike any in the United States.

The best known is Jovan Kirovski, now 22 and a German-based professional who already has played for the U.S. national team. He left California for famed Manchester United's youth program in England when he was 16.

At Utrecht, Levin is looking forward to meeting John O'Brien, one of a larger group of Americans who went abroad after high school. Now 22, O'Brien was 18 when he joined Ajax-Amsterdam, a European powerhouse that operates what many consider the world's prototypical youth program.

The first American with a full Ajax pro contract, O'Brien will play on loan this fall to Utrecht.

The Utrecht experience is viewed by Levin, his parents, Drs. Philip and Marilyn Levin, and his coaches as an unusual learning opportunity.

"He's had this dream," said his father, who likened his son's coming school year as similar to that of an exchange student.

"He really felt he wanted to be in a place where he can tell how good he is. It will be an experience of being totally immersed in soccer that's impossible to achieve in this country."

McDonogh coach Steve Nichols said: "He's a really bright kid academically. Plus, I think he's well-prepared from a personality standpoint. Technically and tactically, he may be the best player his age I've ever seen -- very driven. He'll do fine over there."

Added Dave Kelly, his coach with the Columbia Strikers Under-15 team: "Dutch soccer suits him because he's such a good technical player. Now, he's going to be around the game 24 hours a day. It'll be a wonderful learning experience."

Levin was approached about Utrecht last November while training in Florida with players in U.S. Soccer's Olympic Development Program. Chosen for all-Maryland and regional ODP teams in his age group, he also has trained at the U.S. Soccer center in Chula Vista, Calif.

"I like to take guys on one-on-one, or one-on-two, because that's what the game is really about," said Levin, whose coaches call him small and quick, with size and strength awaiting a growth spurt.

Levin, the youngest of three brothers, said he began playing rec soccer in Westminster at the age of 4, advancing later to a team coached by ex-Blast goalkeeper Keith Van Eron.

An older brother, Brian, played at McDonogh, too, and will be a University of Delaware freshman this fall.

Danny tried baseball and tennis, but said he preferred soccer from the start.

As a McDonogh middle-schooler, he was known for dribbling a ball during his daily routines. A soccer goal adorns the Levin front yard.

"It's a thinking game and physical," Danny said. "You can't beat the creativity of the sport."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.