In his detailed story, he tells of the struggles and many hardships that he endured. The hard times and low points of Andres' life were overbearing, but not unique. The negative situations and rejections that he endured are actually very common among those who have dreams and high aspirations. Everyone has a story. But what separates Andres from the dreamers out there is that he PERSISTED when the going got tough, OVERCAME his problems without making excuses, ACHIEVED his goal of playing professional soccer, JUSTIFIED his status as a professional, and has already set new goals for himself to achieve.
His professional career is just beginning, and we look forward to following his journey and celebrating with him the many successes that are sure to come his way in the future.
Please warmly welcome Andres Acosta to the IMPAJKT family, give his highlight video a watch, and read his inspirational story posted below.
My name is Andres Acosta. This is the story of my soccer career; the struggles, the sacrifices, the perseverance, but most importantly the feeling of success at the end of the tunnel. First I will start with the single moment of pure happiness and peacefulness, this is the moment we all dream and this moment happened for me on December 29th 2013. This was the moment I had dreamed of everyday as a child training to become a better player, this moment was when my name was called in front of over 7,500 fans at the St. Louis Ambush home arena (The Family Arena, St. Charles, MO). Although 7,500 fans doesn’t seem like a lot compared to many more thousands in the MLS or Europe this number felt like 30,000 fans because they are confined in a much smaller area than an outdoor stadium. This was my first game for the St. Louis Ambush of the Major Indoor Soccer League. The St. Louis Ambush were my first major professional contract and although this is not my ultimate goal as a player it was the single best moment of my life as I was called up to join my teammates in the pre game and singing of the national anthem right before the game started. Hearing all those people rooting for you and then for that moment when everyone is quiet and the national anthem is being sung, that is the moment you look around and see all these people and you realize you have made a huge accomplishment. That was the most amazing moment of my life, a moment I can’t fully describe; perhaps the words, "happy" and "peaceful" are the only words that I can't think of that describe that moment.
The reason why I describe the accomplishment of becoming a professional athlete as peaceful is because for athletes the road to professionalism isn’t easy and within this there is also another group that has to go through an even tougher route. Some people make it easier than others, but overall for everyone it requires a lot of dedication and desire to be a professional athlete and to make it as far as you can go; not for the money, the fame, the spotlight, but for your self-satisfaction. This road to success has not been very easy on me; it has required a lot of sacrifices on my part. Making it as a pro soccer player is hard, but making it as a pro soccer player in America is even harder in my opinion, and although many will argue this by saying that it is way harder in other places because the talent is better than in the USA, I believe they are wrong and misinformed. Yes the USA lacks the talent compared to Europe and other big soccer nations, but that doesn’t mean that the talent isn’t there. In my opinion, the reason why soccer talent hasn’t showed is because the system in America is so young and broken in many ways, which leaves many great players lost in the system. Many times the ones who have the opportunities to even go out and train with professional teams or get drafted are those who were lucky enough to grow up near a city with one of the few very well known academies or club teams. This allows these players to be seen easier than others who play for lesser known clubs elsewhere. Many players are then branded elite since the age 10-15 and basically the players who go to these great clubs/academies are those who eventually move on to play division 1 college soccer and later drafted into the MLS. There is also the money issue, many players cannot afford to pay the huge club and academy fees for big clubs so they opt to play for a smaller club with similar training but they lose on exposure. This was the case for me.
I was born in Cali, Colombia and moved to America in 1998 at the age of 8. I grew up in a humble and modest family and never had the luxuries many others had. My parents always supported me with soccer as this was my dream. They did the very best to help me play for club teams and many times they simply could not afford the ODP or Select soccer teams I would be invited to and I simply had to say no to these tournaments growing up, nonetheless I continued to play for several clubs and eventually go on to play high school ball.
I remember as a child my parents would often be late on their bills in order to pay for my club fees etc. These are many things other players take for granted, but I never did. Once high school ball started everything was great I was one of the top players in my area, but the way that high school worked at the time was really not the best, my school competed in Collier County, Florida which is not the most competitive area for soccer in Florida. The most competitive would be Tampa, Orlando, Miami areas. So the players who play for these high schools and better developed academies get the top colleges looking at them. At least this was the case when I was growing up since there wasnt really a full fledged academy program like there is today. Again I still kept playing and eventually drew a lot of attention to many D1 colleges and other categories below D1. During this time I started becoming aware of my immigration status in the USA. My parents had been applying for our green cards for a few years now and this was critical so that I could go on to play college ball and receive grants, scholarships etc. My senior year came and our case was still pending, but we finally received our social security cards and work permits, which was important because this would get me admitted into college, but this did not guarantee the many grants such as FAFSA many athletes receive. This would ultimately be a huge factor financially for me to decide what schools to play for.
With just a work permit in this country I am allowed to live and work in America, but I do not receive any benefits Americans do such as government grants which could be added on top of individual athletic scholarships. This could mean the difference between being able to go to one school or another. During 2007-2008 I received several offers from schools out of state, some D1 some below. Most of the D1’s did not offer me a full soccer scholarship which is what I basically needed as my parents simply could not afford more than $4,000 a year and since I wasn’t eligible for any government aid any non full ride offer was out of question. Most of these schools were $20,000+. Some good schools offered anywhere between 50% and 70% but without me being eligible for FAFSA (since I am not American) I could not pay the rest. Therefore I opted to stay local and I decided to go to FGCU the closest D1 College in Southwest Florida. This school had a decent Division 1 team and I could afford this school as there were some local scholarships I did qualify for and the school was relatively cheap for instate and commuters. I enrolled, started classes and contacted the coaching staff about trying out. At the time I heard from a lot of sources that the coach hardly ever brought walk-ons because he believed automatically they just weren’t any good; in my head I believed, well surely if I play well he will have to notice me and give me a shot. So I tried out, got a training session with the team, but in the end he did not offer me a spot on the team. This was a crush for me as I played well, but as they said they already had their players and didn’t believe I had anything better to offer than what they already had. So I finished my year at the school and continued playing in local leagues and training everywhere I could to get better. This basically counted as my redshirt year. Once I took that year off by going to FGCU I started looking at other schools, D1 soccer suddenly became so hard to pursue since I did not sign D1 straight out of high school elsewhere because I could not afford it. For many of you guys out there you all know that the best route to play professional is to go D1. Well at this time an NAIA school came along (Webber International University), they offered to give me a full ride which was great as I would not have to pay for anything except for extra expenses such as leisure. I took Webber’s offer as I wanted to play college and even though it wasn’t the greatest league I took it, however I did not know of transfer rules in the NCAA and I planned
to do well at Webber and later transfer to a D1. My two years at Webber went well and I decided to transfer after my second year to play my remaining two years D1. I caught the eye of several schools once I got my release from Webber so that I could communicate with them, but in the end the NCAA concluded I would have to sit one year to be D1 eligible, meaning whatever good scholarship offers I had for D1 were once again downsized since coaches now knew I had to sit out a year. This would be another road block in American soccer, the many terrible NCAA rules that keep players from moving around to look for their best interest.
At the time a very good NAIA school, Columbia College, which was nationally ranked contacted me and offered to give me a full ride if I transferred from Webber but this would be a huge step up from Webber as it was a nationally ranked NAIA which really is comparable to a lot of D1 schools. So I decided to just stay NAIA and play for Columbia. During the summers I started playing PDL for teams such as IMG, St. Louis Lions, and SWFL Adrenaline. The PDL is the highest tier of soccer under the professional leagues. Although I was an NAIA player I was playing with and against mostly D1 players in the summers as the PDL is mostly composed of NCAA players. These were really the good times as I like to call them because I had all of my stuff basically paid for all years of playing college ball and I didn’t have any worries.
Once I graduated in May of 2013 I decided to finally pursue professional soccer as I could not really do this while in school because of eligibility issues, which I believe is also a road block for players. Players work so hard in college, yet they can’t have any professional communication, so they basically play their heart out and hope that on the last year their coach will have contacts or recommend them to professional clubs. Which brings me to the next road block; most college coaches will not really go out of their way to help their players move on because players in this country are not worth anything to institutions, therefore that coach is not going to waste all the time and energy when he will not be compensated for it except by giving his program a better name. There are no money compensations to the schools which is different than other countries as youth players are always worth something from the moment they are in academies and if other clubs want to snatch them they have to pay fees to the owning clubs. So for many players unless they are D1 and qualify for the draft, they are left on their own and have to start the process of what many of us players call the “GRIND”.
Many players graduate and since they have not made the draft or had teams knocking on their doors they simply hang their boots and decide to just do what they went to school for. Many of them go on to work in their careers such as doctors, engineers, business, etc. But for a large group of players who have been playing all their lives this simply is not an option as they find it so difficult to just stop doing something they have been doing all their lives and something they love and are good at, but because of circumstances they have not been able to sign professionally. I note that this is not me giving an excuse of why I didn’t go MLS, I know that I am the only person responsible for success and failure in my life, but when it comes to sports I really can tell you that there are just so many things that are really not in your control. Signing professionally is like getting a big job, there are many applicants and not always the best are chosen, but the ones with connections to internal staff in teams and better agents are those that succeed. For those that are unfortunate to not know many important coaches or people, the “GRIND” is hard and it really has a psychological effect on your game at times. I look back and see myself after graduation going to
several tryouts which you save up for through coaching or doing some small gigs since you can’t really get a regular job, because a regular job will not allow you to simply leave for a week to go tryout for a professional team. You work so hard to save up to go to one or two tryouts and then you get there and it’s 100+ players and often half of those are honestly not very good players with no high level experience who just decide to go for it! This creates open tryouts a nightmare for serious players, but a business for teams as they charge $100-$300 per tryout and do it just to make money and maybe find a diamond in the rough. I found this out too quickly and started to just email coaches and ask for invite only tryouts.
In the beginning I was living with some friends and paying them $240 for rent to crash on the corner of the apartment where I had an inflatable mattress and a piece of furniture to put my clothes. I later decided to get a line on the roof and hang curtains to enclose this into a self-made room. I started coaching and earning anywhere from 700-900 a month which was barely enough to cover my gas, food, rent, and cell phone bill. I started emailing every USL- Pro or NASL club I could as MLS is out of the question, they simply will not reply to anyone they just pick players from drafts or feed from the USL-Pro, NASL, PDL, agents and other countries. Along the way I had managed to build up some good references from my past College and PDL coaches. I created a resume and also created highlight video of my career.
Indy 11 of the NASL got back to me in July of 2013 and they invited me for some tryouts and I managed to make the drive from St. Louis. At the time I only had $200. This covered my gas and I had just $100 for food. When I got there I played well and since I didn’t have much money I approached the coach and asked him if he knew any other hotels as the one offered by the tryout was just too expensive, he went on to help me and said he had spoke to my coaches and heard great things and he wanted me to come to a second round of tryouts, he said just keep doing what you are doing and anything can happen. He then took me around the offices and eventually got me to stay at the hotel for free. This was a moment of high as you get confident that hard work pays off and so I played even better the other days. I went back to St. Louis, coached, trained, and waited for their confirmation to the next rounds. Eventually I ended up going to Indy 11 a total of four times and made it all the way to the last round. This season would start April of 2014 so I needed a team for the winter and that’s when I found out that St. Louis was opening an indoor professional team that would play November through March. This would be perfect as I could play with them if I signed and then go on to play for Indy if I signed with them. My last tryout with Indy was in late October and the coach told me I could definitely play at the NASL level, but he could not offer a contract yet as they are looking to first build a core of more experience players and then he could start filling the gaps and quite possibly I might be one of those players and that he would contact me in the next 2-3 months when pre season gets going so that I could come for pre season.
For good players in my situation this is the GRIND, you quite often get so close, yet so far away. Teams often like you, but because you don’t have 1-3 years pro experience they will shy away and only a few lucky inexperienced rookies are chosen every year and the factors that always decide this are the following. Is he a local player, or an out of state player that will require housing, food, and more pay. Is he an international player since there are only 7 international spots per team (Yes, I am international so I have to compete for a spot inside those 7, not 18). Teams always want to sign the player they least have to work for and the player they can get for the cheapest. They only pay and go out of their way for known players. This, I believe is also an error, many professional teams in America pursue signing old stars on their professional deathbed, this creates higher stadium attendances, but make the youth development and players rising up suffer. This is short-term vision and not long-term vision. So many players like me suffer and lose contract offers because they simply decide to bring a 35 year old international who is not even half as fit and has low aspirations, but has the experience. Well how do I get the experience if I don’t get signed… this is a never ending circle.
St. Louis Ambush then became my target as the winter was approaching, I started the pre season and trained every single day, I played very well and was learning the indoor game as quick as possible. There were so many different aspects such as using the wall and being a lot more physical. I adapted quite well and the coach always told me he was happy with my performance. They started signing players little by little and towards the end of pre season they had only signed 10 players and there were 20 of us not signed yet so I said surely I will make the next 10 spots as I am scoring goals and hardly ever lose the ball. This was not the case, in the end they signed 10 other players and kept me and 5 others as practice players. It was a huge blow for me as I was playing very well and they decided to bring older guys who have played indoor professionally before. In my eyes at the time I was mad, but maybe this was just their decision for experience and I cannot hold a grudge. I was down for about a week knowing I had failed to land a contract, but one of the captains in the team came up to me and told me,
“Hey man head up keep coming to practice and trust me people get hurt and you will be signed, some players were signed just because they have more experience, but I believe you are better than some of the guys here so keep coming and show the coaches you deserve to be on the squad.”
I was really hurt and at times I felt like just leaving, but I continued to practice. The next week Illinois Piasa of the PASL (a lower tier Pro indoor league) contacted me and offered to sign me for their season and agreed that I can continue to train with Ambush for the opportunity to sign with them as that was my ultimate goal for the winter. Playing for Piasa gave me some experience in professional indoor soccer and when I would go to Ambush I would play well too. At this point coaching was winding down and I was only making 500 a month, very little to live off of and my family had financial situations too and could not help me very much, but did whenever they could and morally were my support along with my girlfriend. Family and the few real friends are one of the most important pieces to keeping you going. My parents asked me if I wanted to fly to Florida for Christmas and that they could maybe find the money somehow, but I told them no, I do not want to make you guy owe someone and I have to stay and continue playing Piasa and working for a spot with Ambush. On Christmas eve I was very sad as I was not with my parents for the first time in Christmas and I broke down as my dream of playing was honestly so hard, but every morning I would wake up hungry to play and just could not give up. I spent Christmas with my old St. Louis Lions (PDL) host family who are like second parents to me and this made me feel better. I went to Ambush practice and did well; after practice the captain approached me and told me,
“Hey man, we have a lot of injuries and I think you need to be playing already, I am going to speak to coach and see what he says, keep your head up and be prepared because you may be signing!”
These words honestly did not sink in too deep as I honestly was starting to lose hope, but would still give 100% at practices as I hate losing. On December 26th 2013 I got the call from the coach and the owner of the St. Louis Ambush that they would like to sign me for the remainder of the 2013-2014 MISL season. This was an incredible day and I just couldn’t wait to play in front of thousands of fans. After being so down and things not fully working out, I persevered and made it a reality. On December 28th I travelled to play the Milwaukee Wave, which is one of the best indoor professional franchises in history. I debuted and played very well despite us having lost. The next day we played Syracuse at home in front of our own fans and that is where this story started. That single moment of accomplishment. It isn’t the money because honestly what I make playing is not what many of you think, it is the ability to say I made it, I am here, and I experienced what it is to be a professional soccer player. I played the remainder of the MISL season and in February of 2014 I was invited by FC Tucson a huge PDL club to fly to Arizona and be a part of the MLS preseason cup, The Desert Diamond Cup. This was a huge accomplishment as I was able to showcase my skills against Houston Dynamo, Chicago Fire, Real Salt Lake, and Chivas USA. This has made my resume slowly increase and I was invited by Indy 11 for their pre season in Arizona as they were right down the road and I was able train with them and play against the Portland Timbers. I was able to play against some of the country’s best such as Alvaro Saborio, Patrick Nyarko, and Lovel Palmer to name a few. My participation in the MLS preseason opened up opportunities to USL Pro Teams and NASL teams. Indy 11 coach had a chat with me and told me in the end they could not sign me for the 2014 spring season, but he would like to stay in contact. Currently I am in contact with a few clubs and although I may not sign for a professional outdoor team this season as the time is ending, my resume is growing and I am getting closer to my ultimate goal of signing with an outdoor professional team In the mean time I am going to travel to Arizona to play with FC Tucson as they are looking to go to the USL Pro and that may be a good option for me. During the last months I also managed to be hired by a large accounting company in their IT department. They have allowed me to pursue soccer and I work remotely from anywhere that has internet access. This has been a blessing as I am no longer living on less than 1,000 a month and I am living quite comfortably making my living by playing soccer, coaching, and working my college degree. I am a true testament that if you stick through it, you can make it. If you really believe you can do something you can, but if for whatever reason you don’t you will have met many great people and created many great memories along the way, which is all part of opening your world to a large amount of opportunities later on. This “GRIND” has kept me from a lot of luxuries at first and to be honest that’s why a lot of people don’t pursue being who they really want to be, because they want results and money right away, but those who pursue their dreams get something better than money, they get the satisfaction of knowing how far one can really go instead of making excuses for why you didn’t pursue certain things in life. This is worth more than money, because money comes and goes. Especially if you have a college degree, why not pursue your dreams while you are young. The rest will come, but knowing you gave it all is better than not knowing you could have made it or not. I have many older friends and players who say to me, man I wish I would have pursued it, I wish I knew what it was like to really get close to playing professionally, because the reality is only those who pursue it really know how hard it really is, the rest of the world just sit back and say “oh they weren’t good enough, or oh what are they thinking?” My plan is to sign with Ambush again next season as I like the environment St. Louis brings to indoor soccer, but other teams could be an option.
The reality of being a professional player on the rise is that every season you are looking for a new team or re-signing with your current team as many teams do not do multi-year contracts. However, I would not trade this for anything else in the world right now. This whole process has made me a stronger person, has opened my eyes and connections to a whole other level and I know that the day I cannot continue to play I have a college degree and good work experience along with my years as a professional soccer player to land me a good spot somewhere. I have been able to play in Florida, Missouri, Texas, California, Arizona, and many other places. This is what soccer and pursuing your dream is all about. The tunnel will be long and dark, but for those who really stick it out things will get better, but not before they get worse.
- Andres Acosta
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