Bring It On

MLK (New York, N.Y.) midfielder Christian Camacho refuses to be intimidated on the soccer field. Rated the No. 10 high school recruit in the nation by, Camacho has yet to decide on a college program for next year.

This article appears in the September 2005 edition of SchoolSports magazine.

When he was still just a little kid — old enough to remember, but not much older than that — MLK senior midfielder Christian Camacho proved beyond doubt that there are always at least two ways to see something.

On vacation in his parents' native Colombia and seated bareback on a horse at his Uncle Kaime's farm in Cali, Camacho received a cautionary warning: "Grab onto the hair," Kaime told him.

Of course, Uncle Kaime meant for his nephew to grab the horse's mane. But Camacho saw things a little differently, using both hands to grab his own head of hair and promptly tumbling to the ground.

Hey man, Kaime never said which hair to grab.

As hilarious as the tale is, Camacho's unintended "look ma, no hands" routine reinforces the inarguable notion that the way one person sees something might mean something entirely different to another.

Take, for example, the opposing players who push and shove and try to out-physical Camacho, a returning All-State selection and one of the nation's top soccer recruits. They think their tactics produce an intimidation factor.

But what they don't know is precisely who will become intimidated.

"I'm a well-known player out there, and every time I take the field I get guys telling me, ‘I'm going to be stuck on you like glue today' or telling me, ‘You're doing nothing today' or guys just trying to chop my legs," says the 5-foot-9, 160-pound Camacho. "Well, I like it when guys come in and attack me and play aggressive. That's my game. Chances are, I'm going to beat them at it."

That's a fact. And it's a reality that makes MLK 12th-year head coach Martin Jacobson downright giddy that Camacho transferred in from nearby Arts and Business High midway through his sophomore year.

"We've had some great players here, but Christian ranks right up there," says Jacobson, who has sent 45 MLK players on to collegiate athletic careers. "If I were to name an all-time all-star team, he'd be right there contending for one of the top 11 spots."

That's lofty praise considering MLK has produced MLS players like New York-New Jersey MetroStars forward Ramon Bailey and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul. But Jacobson doesn't hesitate to gush about Camacho.

"He's built like you wouldn't believe," says Jacobson. "His legs are like tree trunks. He's strong. He's got superb skills and a good sense of the game."

Apparently, the folks who run the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program agree since Camacho was part of the 2004-05 player pool for Region 1. The rest of Camacho's resume is equally sparkling. He was also selected to participate in this past summer's prestigious adidas Elite Soccer Program, and he's a standout with the Brooklyn Knights, a United Soccer Leagues Super Y-League club.

"Playing for the Brooklyn Knights has been a huge boost for me because we play a lot of the best club teams in the country and we face great players," he says. "Out there, you can see who the difference-makers are and who needs to get better."

Camacho's greatest strides lately, however, have to do with his leadership qualities. As a team captain during his junior year, Camacho believed his squad could benefit from a better sense of unity. But rather than calling a team meeting or delivering a fiery locker room speech, the Knights' main man simply switched his lunch seat.

"When I became a captain, it was like the Hispanic kids would sit with the Hispanic kids and the African kids with the African kids," says Camacho, who turned 17 this past July 11. "I changed my lunch seat to be with the Africans, and we all started talking more. I think we're getting to know each other so much better."

"He has genuine leadership abilities," says Jacobson, 59, who has led the Knights to eight of the last nine PSAL titles and a record five in a row, including last year's 24-2-1 campaign. "I watched two kids have a disagreement in the weight room recently — just a boys-will-be-boys type of thing. But Christian stepped right in and settled it when these two kids got into it."

Camacho's sensitive side extends beyond his peacemaking skills.

After playing his first two high school varsity seasons at sweeper for Arts and Business, Camacho moved to the midfield at MLK and finished his junior campaign with nine goals and 15 assists on a team that also featured now-graduated All-City midfielders Kemalie Preston and Mohamed Berete.

In spite of that and numerous other challenges conquered during his scholastic career, Camacho still possesses a vulnerable side in uniform.

"Bumping up to play at the next level is something that will make me nervous," says Camacho, nicknamed Gattuso by his teammates after Italian midfielder Gennaro Gattuso, who plays for European powerhouse AC Milan. "Honestly, that's what I'll be. When that first practice is over, I bet you're not that confident. But by the time that first game comes, I bet you've stepped up to the reality. They're just human beings with two legs and two arms, same as you. Go play your best."

Camacho lists Long Island University of Brooklyn, St. Francis College and North Carolina State as his possible collegiate destinations. And Jacobson has high expectations for Camacho wherever he ends up.

"He could make an impact at the college level immediately," says Jacobson.

If that forecast is to come true, Camacho is convinced his most prominent playing traits will be the key.

"I rely on my vision first, before anything else," says Camacho. "When I get the ball, I already know where my teammates are. I use my technique and ball control to gain an advantage, but mostly I just never give up. If we're down 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, whatever, I'll fight until the end."

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