MetroStars Academy U-16 standout Johnny Exantus - known as 'Johnny X' by his teammates - is a boy playing among men. However, anyone watching the MetroStars first team tryouts this week would have trouble telling Exantus apart from the older, more experienced competition.
Giovanni Savarese, director of youth soccer and player development for the MetroStars, was impressed by Exantus.
"So far we haven't been disappointed in what he has shown," said Savarese. "He has scored some goals in the training sessions and showed he can finish well. He has shown good vision in being able to connect with some players."
Savarese has also been impressed with Exantus' off the field actions as well.
"The most important thing is that he has shown a lot of professionalism during training," said Savarese. "He has been punctual every day and worked hard during training,".
Exantus also feels he fits in with the competition.
"At first I had to get adjusted to playing against bigger guys, but once I got started I didn't see that big of a difference between my skill level and the other players."
The tryouts looked like any other MetroStars practice, with passing drills and half-field scrimmages. MetroStars president and general manager Alexi Lalas and Savarese even joined the players on the field and were very vocal in motivating the players to play harder.
Head coach Mo Johnston ran a tight practice and made sure players played simple soccer rather than using flashy moves.
Exantus never looked out of place at the scrimmage as he generated scoring chances with his well-placed crosses. His deft touches - and especially his footwork - showed maturity beyond his years. He even scored some goals, including a beautiful back-heel tap-in behind his leg.
"There's a difference, but I don't see much of (one)," Exantus said when asked to describe the diferences between playing with his Academy team and the first team. "As far as adjusting, I feel I can dominate. I just need to improve my timing."
Even though French is the Haitian-born Exantus' first language, he has little trouble communicating with his teammates on the field.
"I understand English, but sometimes it's hard to respond quickly," he said. "But soccer is one language once you're on the field, so communication is not that big of a problem."
With his strong showing at the practices, Exantus is confident he will be able to get a spot with the MetroStars first team.
"I feel I have an 80 percent chance of making the team," he said. "The only problem is that the tactics of the Academy coaches and Mo are a little different. But I will adjust soon."
Savarese is cautiously optimistic about Exantus' chances.
"At the end of the day, it's a decision that Mo has to make. As director of youth soccer, I have been pleased with what I've seen."