Far and away the standout in the US side that recently reached the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea Republic, 16-year-old Alex Nimo grabbed three goals in three qualifying games to lead the team's scoring charts in Kingston, Jamaica. But his rise to the national team was not the smooth and comfortable suburban climb of most of his team-mates
Born in war-torn Liberia when the country's well-documented civil strife was at its peak, he barely escaped the every-day violence before moving with his younger brother and parents to Ghana. There, in the Buduburan refugee camp, young Alex played with a ball of rags in Amid the squalor of that environment, he often dreamed he was Brazil ace Ronaldo playing at the FIFA World Cup, even pencilling in the famous no9 of his hero on his shirt.
In 1999, when Alex was nine, the Nimo family were granted political asylum in the United States and made the arduous journey to the west coast of North America and the rain swept city of Portland, Oregon - coincidentally known as the USA's 'Soccer City.'
When Nimo's father told him of the move to the United States, Nimo turned to a world map to find his new home. "I couldn't see Oregon," he said. "I had heard of New York but I didn't have a clue where Oregon was."
Good enough, old enough
His hour after hour kicking around in Buduburan must have paid off for the youngster, when, after pestering his father to find information on local football teams, he got a try-out with Portland FC's youth side. True to his roots, Nimo was the only boy at the trial without shiny new football boots. However, in his tennis shoes, he managed to make a sensation. Scoring goal after goal at trials, alongside his brother, no one seemed to notice Alex was a full five years younger than the rest of the boys.
Former US U-23 assistant coach and University of Portland head coach, the late Clive Charles, recognised Nimo's talent at once and fought to have him included in the U-14 team. There and at school, he just never stopped scoring goals, with a phenomenal natural control of the ball and blistering pace.
Talk of a rangy, tall and physically impressive youngster of Liberian origins began to spread like wildfire in US Soccer circles and the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Florida was the next logical step for the standout. Hardly a teenager, Nimo was already drawing comparisons to Liberia's best-ever player, George Weah.
"Right away we knew he was a good player, but he didn't have citizenship at that time, so we basically had to wait to see if he would get his citizenship by the time he was old enough for the residency program," said US U-17 coach Hackworth.
Alex was officially granted American citizenship in 2006 and he was immediately brought into the U-17 team that was preparing for qualifiers in Jamaica. "We couldn't wait to get him into the team and called on him right away," Hackworth added.
A young lion?
The long wait over, Nimo hardly had long to wait for his first US goal. Just six months after joining up with the team, and in only his sixth cap, he scored within two minutes of the opening whistle of the States' opener with Trinidad & Tobago.
"I didn't know what to do since it was my first goal," said Nimo, who raced to the corner flag and danced after scoring. "I was relieved and really excited." His celebration harkened back to Roger Milla of Cameroon, a hero of Nimo's continent of birth. He then, in a move that would have made the 'Old Lion' proud, scored again in the second half en route to a 3-0 win.
Helped on their way by Nimo (he scored again against the host Jamaicans), the US U-17s qualified for the finals in the Far East this summer where they will take on Tajikistan, Tunisia and Belgium in Group E.
A trip to Korea, halfway around the world from his current home, itself thousands of miles from his place of birth, just seems a next logical step for this impressive young man.
Having found a startling talent in Alex Nimo, it's no wonder boss Hackworth sounds pleased. "It's a tough position to come into, but he's done exceptional and we hope he will continue to improve."
For Alex, a return to his home continent of Africa would represent the real dream come true. "I pray to God that I can be able to play in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with the US," said Nimo. "That's my big goal."