The United States, Yura Movsisyan says, is "a dream world," and he knows only one way to demonstrate how thankful he is to live here.
"The only way I can show my appreciation," he says, "hopefully, I can make the U.S. national team. That's my dream, that I can play for the U.S. national team, go to the World Cup, and that's how I can show my appreciation."
He's taking the first step on that path this weekend at the 2006 adidas MLS Player Combine at The Home Depot Center. The 18-year-old forward, who a year ago was dominating competition at Pasadena High School north of Los Angeles, is among the most intense attackers displaying their abilities for MLS coaching staffs.
He's already signed a contract with the league and in next Friday's SuperDraft will learn which club most covets his services.
He's a rare find, a player who has no youth national team experience and has never played for a four-year college program but already is deemed ready for professional soccer. One season at Pasadena City College -- hardly one of Southern California's junior college soccer powers -- a brief interval with club power Arsenal FC at last month's Nike Friendlies in Florida, and some boosters with first-rate connections have provided Movsisyan an opportunity he's adamant he'll make the most of.
It's been a long road from Azerbaijan, where Movsisyan was born, to MLS. He's happy to share some details, but others have left his memory -- repressed, perhaps -- or are too painful to divulge.
"I am Armenian," he says by way of introduction. "I was born in Azerbaijan, Baku (the capital), but I am Armenian. That's what I want people to know."
Life in Baku was difficult, although he says he has no memories. His family -- father Sergey, mother Aida Sahakyan, brothers Movses and Hovhannes -- came to America in "late 2001 or early 2002; I can't remember." They were seeking asylum, and their case is winding its way through bureaucratic channels in Washington.
"We got out of Baku because over there Armenians are the least-favorite people," Movsisyan says. "Killing ... everything. We just ran away from there, the whole family.
"I don't remember how we got here. I was a kid. But from my parents, I learn nothing is easy, especially to get into the United States. But we got lucky. We got into a dream world -- that's how I look at it.
"Memories, I don't have a lot. I didn't really get to go to kindergarten; I didn't really get to go to school. Armenians in general are not liked. People didn't like us over there. ... Not really any good memories I could be sharing with you."
He says he remembers no Armenian friends in Baku, that he believes there are no Armenians still in Azerbaijan. "If there are," he says, "it has to be a living hell for them."
Movsisyan's family landed in Pasadena, near an area called "Little Armenia," which stretches from Glendale to Pasadena to Hollywood. It was truly a "dream world."
"To have around me all Armenians, to feel you have the love of your nation's people," he says. "Of course, everywhere I go, it's almost all Armenians. Driving, seeing people, talking to them ... supermarkets, especially in Glendale and Hollywood. It's a good feeling to be around them. It's a very good feeling not to have to go through the same things my parents had to."
Movsisyan has vague memories of playing soccer in the streets of Baku -- "balls breaking windows," he says -- but he'd never played for a team until arriving in California. His father provided guidance, his older brother, Movses, now 20, was a constant playmate, but as the family looked to survive in their new home, a decision had to be made.
"It was either me working and (Movses) playing, or (Movses) working and me playing," Movsisyan says. "He wanted me to play soccer. ... Instead of me being here, he could have been here. I appreciate that a lot. Everyone in my family has been behind me from day one.
"My dad has been pushing me from day one; he made me realize nothing is better than this. Just to be Armenian and to play -- me being Armenian and people realizing I am Armenian. And I would love that to be mentioned more than anything."
Movsisyan's mentor has been Cherif Zein, somewhat of a club coaching legend in Southern California. Zein coached Movsisyan at Pasadena High School, where last season the striker scored 32 goals in 13 games, and at Pasadena City College, where this past fall he netted another 18 goals.
Through Zein, Movsisyan met Ralph Perez, a U.S. national staff coach who formerly was a Los Angeles Galaxy assistant coach. Perez spread the word about this young Armenian unknown, and a few coaches caught a glimpse of him when he joined P.J. Brown's Arsenal club team at the Nike Friendlies.
The next thing Movsisyan knew, he was being offered an MLS deal and invited to take part in the combine. He's the only junior college player with such an opportunity.
"This is great," he says. "To live the professional life is just the best thing on earth. I'm here with the best guys in the nation, the best college guys. Just to be around these guys who have been playing Division I soccer -- which is higher than PCC -- it's great. The people here, the coaches, the guys, everything has been great. Everything is first-class."
It provides Movsisyan one more chance to express how thankful he is, how in his heart it is America right next to Armenia.
"I came here wanting to live a dream life, and I am living a dream life," he says. "There is so much in me, I can only express it on the field."
Veteran soccer reporter Scott French is an assistant sports editor at the Los Angeles Daily News. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.