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Soccer: Taylor Booth is a 13-year-old phenom with his sights set on playing for RSL someday

EDEN — When Taylor Booth was born almost 14 years ago, he came into this world crying — just like most newborns do.

But then for the next several months, he kept crying, and crying, and crying some more, so much that his mother, Kelli, vowed she would never have another child.

Well, nearly 14 years later, it's Taylor Booth who often brings tears to the eyes of his opponents on the soccer field — and tears of pride to his family and coaches.

Though he won't turn 14 until the last day of May, Booth was selected to play for the U.S. U-14 Boys National Team, which had an opportunity to play in a 10-day tournament earlier this year in Spain.

The 20-member U.S. team won two of the three games it played there, defeating Real Madrid 2-0 and beating Rio Vallecano 4-0 before losing to a Spanish team whose players were a year older than their American counterparts.

"I was picked to try out for the national team by a scout that lives in California," said Taylor, who was the only Utah boy picked to play on the national team. Kaysville's Olivia Wade played on the U-17 Girls National Team. "I was at ODP (Olympic Development Program) in Oregon and he was my coach and he recommended me for the U.S. team."

"You don't go try out for the national team," said his mom, Kelli Booth. "They come find you."

A series of tryouts steadily whittled the list of hopeful candidates down to a 20-member U.S. team, which took the trip to Spain for the experience of a lifetime, seeing such sights as Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the largest soccer stadium in the world, where they received a shout-out during a game from the renowned Real Madrid men's team.

Taylor customarily plays an attacking center forward position. And while his skill level on the soccer field is nothing short of amazing, the fact that he's raised the level of his game to such heights at such an early age is even more impressive when you learn what kind of struggles he faced as a baby.

Booth was born with torticollis, a condition in which he suffered from a flopping neck that was caused by his neck being kinked in the womb, resulting in insufficient bloodflow getting to his neck muscles.

"It was really bad," Kelli recalled. "He went to physical therapy as an infant and he screamed constantly. Sometimes the condition will cure itself, but he had it so bad that he had to do therapy. This kid had to have therapy for the first five months of his life, around the clock, and he was a crybaby who didn't like getting his neck stretched.

"He cried so much that I gave away all his baby clothes and was never going to have another child.

"I remember saying, 'Oh, I hope he's healthy,’ ” Kelli recalled. "So he's gone from needing physical therapy as a baby to being on the U.S. National Team — and he thinks it's normal. What he doesn't realize is that there was a time when we just thought, 'I hope his lungs work and his brain works.'

"He doesn't have brain damage — but now he has 'teenager brain damage,’ ” she said with a laugh.

Ever since those early days, his mom says Taylor has always been a ball of energy who grew up to be a boy who always wanted the same gift for Christmas and his birthday — a new soccer ball.

He comes by it right and has the genes for it. After all, both his mom and his dad, Chad Booth, were soccer stars at Weber High School. Kelli earned All-Region, All-State and All-American honors and received a scholarship to Utah State, but after blowing out her ACL twice, she eventually gave up the sport.

Chad played collegiate soccer at Weber State and coached Taylor for several years as his son was growing up, and Taylor always played with kids older than him.

The family's love for soccer — his older brother, Carver, currently plays for Weber High — encouraged them to do something pretty unique with the unfinished basement in their large home in Eden, a small town located northeast of Ogden.

Since there were no walls in the way and it had a high ceiling, the basement seemed like a huge open space that was begging to be used in some special way. So they decided to find some used artificial turf and put it down on their basement floor — essentially turning the Booths' basement into perhaps the world's most quaint, cozy indoor soccer field.

"He plays down there every day, kicking the ball against the wall and practicing," Kelli said of Taylor. "I've replaced the same window twice. Now we need to figure out how to protect that window."

"He would always be bouncing the ball in my house," said his grandfather, Dave Carver, who lives next door, "and it'd drive me crazy. I would throw the ball out of my house, and I did that many times.

"Now that I can see how good he's become, he can bounce the ball in my house any time he wants — as long as I'm not there."

Taylor's affection for the sport also prompts him to do different things like take a soccer ball with him on a hike. And it helps that his dad, Chad, will go outside and kick the ball around with him on the small soccer field they have set up in their yard.

"They play with their brothers and their cousins all the time in their yard," said Grandpa Dave. "… And they'll play in the basement all winter long. He goes down there every day and he does it on his own. He doesn't have guys pushing him to practice all the time."

Life isn't all lollipops and rainbows for this soccer-loving young man, though. His commitment to the sport, playing in tournaments for the U.S. National Team and participating in other training sessions, camps and tryouts forced the Snowcrest Junior High eighth-grader to miss nearly three-dozen days of school by early March.

"It's hard to stay caught up, but I've just been working with the teachers and staying after school some," said Taylor, who also has a tutor to help him keep up with his studies.

"I will try out for the Real Salt Lake Academy in May in Casa Grande, Arizona, and try to earn a scholarship there. The Real Academy starts at age U-15 and goes up to U-18. I would be playing with kids a year or two years older than me, but that doesn't matter. They'll take you if your skill level is there.

"If you live to play soccer, that's what you do and then you do schoolwork on the side," he said. "If I can make it to the Real Academy, from there, I hope I can move up to the first team of Real Salt Lake someday — or any other pro team."

That may sound like a might lofty goal for a 13-year-old kid who's been playing soccer what he called "as long as I can remember."

But Adolfo Ovalle, the technical director for the La Roca Soccer Club and a savvy guy who also serves as coach of Taylor's La Roca team, says the young man's ambitious dreams are not far-fetched at all.

In fact, the way Ovalle sees it, Taylor will almost assuredly turn those dreams into reality someday.

"The thing with Taylor is from the moment he came to my team three years ago, he was the youngest player on my team and he was immediately identified for being so young," Ovalle said. "But his ability and speed stood out immediately, especially for such a young kid.

"How much he grew as a player from year one to year two is unbelievable. This kid is just amazing in how he's improved — he's stronger, faster, and his game awareness in unbelievable. His understanding of the game to be such a young kid is clearly at a national level.

"He's outstanding, one of the top players I've ever coached," he said. "I've been coaching in Utah for 14 years, and I've coached the best players in Utah, and I would compare Taylor with any of the best players in this state. He is definitely in the top 10 of all the players I've coached over the last 14 years, and I'm talking about guys who are playing on the professional level now. Taylor's going in that same direction."

His parents and grandparents are not only proud of Taylor for the terrific talent he displays in soccer, but also for the way he handles it.

"He doesn't get rattled when people are yelling," said his Grandpa Dave, who also noted that Taylor is a "natural athlete" with a perfect golf swing. "He just does what the coaches say and he doesn't have a big head. He just gets the job done.

"He likes the big picture of soccer, he likes everything about it."

"He's just quiet and he doesn't brag about it," Kelli said of her son's accomplishments. "He just goes out there and gets the job done, and that's what makes it fun.

"Taylor always shows up for the big games. The pressure doesn't seem to change how he plays. Some kids, the pressure throws them off a little bit, but he always seems to like it and doesn't let it get to him."

Ovalle also commends Taylor for being extremely dedicated, training with the team four times a week in Layton, even though his family lives almost an hour away in Ogden Valley.

"His commitment level is outstanding, and his parents are incredible people," Ovalle said. "Everything they do for their kid is outstanding, and that's what it takes. … I see his dad or mom or his grandpa there at practice, every time."

Ovalle pointed out that the La Roca Club has sent many of its players to the Real Salt Lake Academy, and several of those players have gone on to play at the next level, including his own son Fito, who currently plays with the RSL Monarchs.

"There's no doubt in my mind that, as long as he stays healthy and commits to work the way he does, Taylor will be one of the next professional players we have from Utah," said Ovalle, who told Taylor's dad a year ago that the boy would follow this path to a spot on the national team.

"He is following the same steps as other kids I coached. Taylor's doing so well and, on any given day, he can be the best player on the field. Some of them are almost two years older than he is, and when you put him on the field to play with his own age group, he makes them look silly.

"He's a very special kid," Ovalle said. "I pray that he stays healthy all the time, because he totally has it, he totally has it. He has the will, he loves soccer and he has all the tools to make it to the next level. Coaching Taylor has been one of the most fun things I've experienced, and I'm thrilled to have him on my team. His talent, his dedication, he's very coachable and super respectful, he's a hard worker and a great teammate. Everyone on our team loves Taylor — he's the whole package."

Yes he is, one that can bring tears to opponents' eyes.

And, speaking of tears, Taylor's mom Kelli got over all the ones that her son shed as a baby and had two more children — both soccer-playing boys, of course.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com