June 28, 2012
By Charles Cuttone
For someone who didn't take up playing soccer until his junior year in high school, Josh Danza of the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves has come a long way.
The 22-year-old Baltimore native recently was selected to the 30-man player pool for the Puerto Rican National Team, after a grueling week of tryouts that included pro players with MLS, NASL and USL experience.
The route to the national team was a circuitous one for Danza, who played baseball, basketball and soccer in high school.
"I really didn’t take soccer seriously until my junior year of high school. I ended up playing for the Baltimore Bays," he said of the top-rated youth program.
From high school, he went to Baltimore-based Stevenson University, a Divison III program. While it was close to home and provided him with an education and a chance to play, it also was where Danza decided he wanted to make soccer a career.
"I had always taken soccer seriously, but I realized in order to get drafted, in order to play at the next level, everyone is looking at Division I athletes," said Danza, who transferred to Towson after his junior season.
"I played this past spring season at Towson and I started every game in the spring. I worked really hard and I am looking forward to this fall season. It's really my last shot at getting exposure."
While playing at Stevenson, Danza also played in the Premier Development League. He made the move to the Silverbacks and the National Premier Soccer League this year as a means of gaining more exposure.
"I wanted to try something new for the summer," he said. "I figured it was good opportunity, especially since they have a pro team you can train with and get to know the guys."
It was the move to Towson, however that opened up the opportunity in Puerto Rico.
"At Towson, one of the former players had played for the National Team," explained Danza, who is majoring in information technology. "My head coach at Towson, Frank Olszewsky, I told him I was Puerto Rican and he contacted the head of scouting, sent him a couple of videos, my resume and they brought me down for a trial."
Both of Danza's grandparents on his father's side were born and raised in Puerto Rico, and while his father was born in New York, he was raised in Puerto Rico and played for the Puerto Rican National Racquetball Team.
Danza atteneded a camp in Puerto Rico from May 28-June 4.
"It was a big group of guys, some MLS, some USL, some NASL," said Danza. The level of competition was not the only adjustment for Danza.
"It was a really big shock for me when I went to Puerto Rico. Each day was over 115 degrees, and so humid. The heat index…when you play on that turf. I can see why teams like the Puerto Rico Islanders do so well at home. Because teams come in there not expecting to melt.
"At the end of the camp, they thought I played well. The coach approached me and told me I had been selected to the 30-man roster. From here on out whenever there is a camp, I will be eligible to come down for men's or U-23 competitions. That's pretty exciting news."
Though Puerto Rico is not exactly a soccer powerhouse, Danza hopes having the National Team exposure on his resume will help him land a pro contract when he finishes school.
"This is my senior year. When I’m done, I hope to get drafted, or look at NASL, USL or wherever. That's pretty much what I want to make a career out of, soccer. It’s definitely my dream to play professionally."
Charles Cuttone is Executive Editor of Soccer News Net