Atlantan hoping to play pro soccer in Europe

By Doug Roberson

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Casey Osborne wasn’t sure he belonged. Two days after arriving at Notts County in central England, theAtlanta soccer player was put on the field. On his first touch, his first chance to impress, he botched it badly. Trying to trap the ball, it ricocheted off him as if he were made of stone.

The coach of the academy-level team put his head in his hands and looked away. Osborne looked out of place.

However, he was used to overcoming challenges. A few minutes later he offered a crunching tackle. A few minutes more and he headed a ball with his curly locks that led to a goal.

The player nicknamed “Yank” looked like he belonged.

“I didn’t feel like I was the weak link,” Osborne said, hardly boastful.

Since he began seriously playing the sport four years ago, Osborne has overcome shyness so severe that his parents were afraid it would keep him from finishing high school at Druid Hills. He’s torn the meniscus in his left knee. He has sustained an injury to his groin. He’s broken his leg. His dad estimated his son has missed at least 1-½ years of the past four because of surgeries and rehabilitation.

None of it has slowed him down. At 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds, Osborne plays much bigger and stronger than his physique, throwing himself into tackles and collisions with players a few inches taller and dozens of pounds heavier.

“He’s one of those players that every time he steps on the field it’s a battle for him,” Jason Smith, his GFC Spurs club coach, said.

Perhaps the aggressiveness is the outlet for the shyness that consumed Osborne. Perhaps he’s trying to make up for starting the game so late compared to others. For certain, soccer has helped him overcome his fears to the extent that he was confident enough to make the trip to London by himself, even if he wasn’t brave enough to ask for directions when he got lost in the London Underground.

Another of Osborne’s coaches at Spurs, Paul Smith, helped set up the trip through his ties as a former professional player in England. Osborne was supposed to go last year. Less than a week before he was scheduled to leave, he and another player were going for a “50-50″ ball  during a game. The other player missed the tackle and kicked Osborne right above the ankle, breaking his leg.

It was back for four months of treatment at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Sports Medicine, a place where he’s spent so much time that he’s developed a bond with his rehab specialist, Eddie Fagan.

No matter the severity of his injuries — he’s still got screws in his ankle from that tackle — Fagan said he had to tell Osborne to slow down when he tried to rush back on the field.

Osborne is 100 percent now and trying to fulfill his dream. Michael Johnson, his Notts coach, would like to have him back, but said work visas are extremely hard to secure for football players in that country. Osborne has a reference letter from Johnson that he hopes will help him sign with another lower-division club somewhere in Europe or South America. If that doesn’t happen, he hopes to play this summer for a pro developmental team in the U.S., which may ease the visa burden. His various coaches have said he has the skill to make it. He’s trying to find a trainer to put on 15 pounds of muscle on him to improve his chances.

“When he gets the ball on his feet he can cause problems,” Johnson said. “But there are quite a few old foxes who would take advantage of him because he’s so slender.”

Osborne will  give pro soccer a couple of years. If it doesn’t work out, he’ll go to college. Grades aren’t an issue. Despite all the rehabs, despite being in England for a month, he is going to graduate from DruidHills High School on time.

Casey dreams of one day playing for Arsenal. For now he just wants to play where he can.

“I want to figure out the pecking order and where I fit in the world,” Osborne said.

Casey Osborne

Age: 17

Hometown: Avondale Estates

High School: Druid Hills

Club team: GFC Spurs

Position: Central midfield or sweeper

Favorite team: Arsenal

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