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Nimo's soccer skills pave way

PREP FOCUS: Ex-Benson player thrives in Florida as part of U.S. under-17 national team
by: JIM CLARK, Formerly a Techman, forward Alex Nimo heads to Jamaica this month to play qualifying matches that could send his U.S. under-17 team to South Korea this fall for the World Cup.

Alex Nimo, meet Landon Donovan.

It happened last week, when the United States' biggest soccer star visited with Nimo and the rest of the U.S. under-17 national team.

Donovan and the national team watched as Nimo and the under-17 squad beat Ecuador 2-1 on a Sunday morning in Tampa, Fla. Nimo, from Benson High, had an assist.

A little later that day, Donovan scored three goals in a 3-1 U.S. win over Ecuador on the same field.

The events of the day gave Nimo, a two-time all-state forward, even more to dream about.

'I love Landon. He's the man. I would love to be on the field with him,' Nimo says.

One step at a time. Nimo has moved to Bradenton, Fla., where he attends school in the afternoon, after training in the morning at the prestigious IMG Academy with other elite young American soccer players.

Nine members of the U.S. national team, including Donovan, came out of the same program.

The under-17 team plays World Cup qualifying matches April 28 through May 6 in Kingston, Jamaica, against the host country, Canada, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. has a good chance of being among the three teams that make it to the World Cup, Aug. 18 through Sept. 9 in South Korea.

'I might have a starting position,' Nimo says. 'I'm doing pretty good. Been playing a lot of minutes.'

Nimo, who turned 17 on March 21, left for Florida on Jan. 2 and won't be back at Benson to finish his senior year. He plans to graduate from Bradenton's Edison Academy on May 26.

In Florida, most of his needs are taken care of by U.S. Soccer. 'The food is free, and we get a little stipend,' he says. 'And the best thing, being a soccer player, is that we get free cleats every two months.'

The under-17 team trains during the week and plays friendly matches on the weekends, often against local or visiting professional squads. The versatile Nimo has played forward, attacking midfield, right midfield and left midfield.

Teammates have dubbed him 'the Fish,' partly because his name sounds the same as the main character in 'Finding Nemo' and largely because of the moves and fakes on the field that he uses to wiggle his 5-5, 140-pound body past opposing players.

'I love to run at defenders as fast as I can,' he says. 'I really confuse them. I like to make things happen.'

It's been hard for him to be so far away from his family.

'I miss them a lot,' he says. 'The first month in Florida, I was sad, kind of like depressed. I wasn't feeling myself.'

He visited Portland for three days last week, but had to get back to work. He wants to be a professional soccer player. 'And not just any professional player - there are a lot of those -I want to play overseas and actually play, not sit on the bench,' he says.

If the opportunity to do that doesn't happen right away, he says he'll go to college, perhaps at the University of Portland.

'I love UP,' he says, 'and I would love to play in Oregon.'

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