Subotic's choice (cont.)
"I saw a tall, lanky, thin kid with a bag of balls," said Fulk. "I was there [to see] a friend's son, and I saw this kid who had probably 12 balls, and he was just ripping balls into the goal, over and over. But the thing that impressed and always stuck with me, was that when he finished shooting, he started running. He would shoot the balls, then would run two laps around the soccer field at a very good pace.
"Then he'd go get the balls and shoot 12 balls with his left foot. Then he'd run two more, then he'd go and do volleys. Then he'd run more. And he could strike a ball!"
Fulk said he first saw him on a Tuesday, then on a Wednesday. And the next week he'd see him on a Thursday -- making it safe to conclude that this was one dedicated young player.
Fulk introduced himself to Subotic, who told his story and said that he was about to get his U.S. citizenship. Fulk informed John Ellinger, then the U-17 head coach, and they invited Subotic to a tryout. Subotic said he was a forward, but they tried him at defensive midfielder and central back -- and offered him a spot in the residency camp.
"Boom, we brought him in," said Fulk. "He lived across the street [from] the Academy so he remained at home, which meant he was a bonus player. His dad actually worked in the school. He cleaned the school. He had three or four jobs. He was a very hard-working man and a good person. The rest is history. It's amazing."
For the second time in his life, the Subotic family had found a home that furthered their son's soccer ambitions.
"At that time I had not [been on] a club team for about a year or two," said Subotic. "I was overwhelmed after they accepted me. I remember Coach Ellinger telling me that I made it. So then back at the changing rooms I made it official and just screamed it out in front of everyone."
Subotic played 89 minutes in four games at the '05 U-17 World Cup, where the Americans reached the quarterfinals. He was headed to the University of South Florida. But while with the U-17s in the Netherlands, where they played against Ajax Amsterdam and PSV Eindhoven, he was approached by player agent Steve Kelly, who asked him if he was interested in playing in Europe.
Subotic answered in the affirmative and said his preference would be with a club in Germany near his childhood friends. Kelly also represented American Conor Casey, who played for Mainz 05. A tryout was arranged and Subotic impressed.
Back 'home' in Germany
During the '06-07 season, Subotic played for Mainz's youth and fourth-division teams. But in the last game of the season, with Mainz already doomed to second-division relegation, he started and played the full 90 minutes in a 5-2 loss to Bayern Munich, becoming, at age 18, the youngest American to play in the Bundesliga. (Subotic was two years younger than Jovan Kirovski when the latter played for Borussia Dortmund in '96.)
The following season Subotic played 33 games and scored four goals for Mainz in the Second Division. When Mainz coach Jürgen Klopp moved to Borussia Dortmund, he brought Subotic along and made him the center of his young defense.
"The thing that really helped me play good soccer was that it felt so good to be here, home," said Subotic.
Subotic's bio on Borussia Dortmund's official Web site describes him as a "modern central defender" with confidence on the ball and exceptional positioning aptitude that enables him to excel with "hardly any fouling." In his 33 games in Mainz, he received just two yellow cards and was called for a foul only once every 76 minutes.
"I win my battles and do my job pretty well in the defense, and even (score some goals up top," Subotic said. "The thing I need to do now is just play consistently good, and gain experience. My attitude has always been the key factor for everything I do. Even when I had some bad days, I gave 100 percent and the coaches took notice of that, plus my quality, and then let me play."
Subotic also has become a media favorite thanks to the spectacular start at Dortmund, his friendly interviews and a relationship with German U-20 pole vault world champion Lisa Ryzih, whom he met when they appeared on the TV talk show Flutlicht.