A New Jersey Soccer Story: José Angulo

Jose Angulo used setbacks early in his career as motivation to become on of the most proficient scorers in America's lower leagues. Photograph by Orlando City SC

download-1José Angulo inherited from his father both a name and a passion for putting soccer balls into the back of the net.

After a decade of playing as a striker in Colombia, José Angulo Sr. continued his career by moving to the United States in the early 1990s with his family in tow. The family followed Angulo Sr. to South Florida for a year with the Miami Freedom before he switched to the West Coast to help Club Deportivo Mexico in San Francisco capture the 1993 U.S. Open Cup.

“Everything I learned about how to be a striker was from my dad,” Angulo said. “All I remember growing up is being at practices, jumping in on a 5 v 2 with my dad’s teams. I just kinda grew up with it. It’s all I know. I’ve always known it’s what I wanted to do.”

The New York/New Jersey MetroStars showed some interest in Angulo Sr. in the lead up to Major League Soccer’s launch in 1996, but he decided to hang up his cleats and focus on his son’s development. Rather than wait on one of the youth clubs in the wealthier areas of the state to scout his son, Angulo Sr. launched his own team in Paterson, N.J.

It didn’t take long for the established clubs to take notice.

“He started Colombian Soccer Club for all the local kids in the inner city. We just kinda started training and playing there every day,” Angulo recalled. “From there the teams from the suburbs starting recognizing that there was some good players in the city. I was like the first Spanish kid on a team called Pasco Thunder in Passaic County. My coach on that team Joe Felice helped me out a lot when I was younger with transportation, getting from Paterson to tournaments all over Jersey.”

At 29, Angulo laments how the talent in the inner city continues to be overlooked. When he can, the Oklahoma City Energy striker helps out with Unisamba, a rec program started by a friend back in Paterson to give inner city youngsters the same chance he had.

“It’s about giving kids in Paterson a chance to play,” he said. “The lack of opportunity for inner city kids is a problem because usually the talent comes from the struggle. That’s what I believe. You see it in basketball and football. There’s a lot of talent being wasted in these inner cities cause a lot of the programs are in these rich areas. In the inner cities there are all these players not getting a chance.”

Angulo’s natural goal-scoring abilities kept him from falling through the cracks. He joined the area’s Player Development Academy, the Olympic Development Program and could have joined the U.S. Soccer youth residency program if he had been a citizen at the time.

Any setback Angulo may have suffered by missing out on with the youth national team was negated by the environment under coach Rick Jacobs at Saint Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark. Angulo credits the school — which produced Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos and Juan Agudelo — with getting him into a professional mindset early on.

“Pretty much all four years there was kinda molding you to get ready for the next step. It was a high school team, but it was like a professional team,” he said. “We went away for the preseason, we were sponsored by Adidas, we had training schedules like every day. It was set up like a professional team. That was impressive. To this day, I’ve been on some professional teams that don’t take it as serious as that, which is crazy.”

While at Saint Benedict’s, Angulo trained with the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew. When he noticed he was keeping up with professionals, the youngster made up his mind to bypass college. As one of the top attacking prospects in the country, he had no problem securing an agent and finding MLS interest. He even earned trials at Hannover 96 and Lazio, though contracts with them never materialized. He signed with the Revolution, but a torn meniscus impeded him from playing and the team eventually waived him.

With teams no longer calling, Angulo found action in the Premier Development League with the Jersey Express and the Central Jersey Spartans to work up his fitness level. He didn’t see the field much in Newark, but his time with the Spartans was a return to form as he tallied 10 goals in 11 appearances.

His productive stint with the Spartans didn’t sway as many teams as he had hoped. Frustrated, Angulo packed up and drove to Pennsylvania on a whim to try out with the United Soccer League’s Harrisburg City Islanders.

“I pretty much started from the bottom,” said the former prospect. “Nobody was really helping me out, no agents, nothing. So I’m like ‘I’m taking this into my own hands. I’m gonna go do this.’ I paid like $175  for the tryout and borrowed my dad’s car. I didn’t get picked up in the first tryout but then Rick Jacobs had actually gotten a job with the Philadelphia Union. I reached out and he called the coach and asked him to take another look. They invited me back and I scored against a team of guys who were already signed. They pretty much had to take me then.”

Early injuries to Harrisburg’s roster helped Angulo move up the depth chart and he never looked back. He led the team with nine goals, earning a call from New York Red Bulls. He never suited up for New York in MLS, but he carried his valuable experiences with Thierry Henry that year into his 2013 MVP season with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Angulo lifted the Riverhounds to a postseason berth with 15 goals and 4 assists, earning the scoring title and MVP honors .

“I tell people it’s no coincidence that I got MVP the following year,” he said. “I knew coming into New York to take it as a learning experience. Unless Thierry Henry is hurt, you’re not gonna play much. I got to know him on a personal level. For me it couldn’t have gone better. You have one of the best strikers in the world you’re learning from every day. I’ve definitely applied that to my game.”

With 8 goals for St. Louis and Oklahoma City this year, Angulo shows no sign of slowing down. Photograph by Steven Christy/OKC Energy FC

With eight goals for St. Louis and Oklahoma City this year, Angulo shows no sign of slowing down. Photograph by Steven Christy/OKC Energy FC

Angulo’s 2013 season was no fluke. While he’s never replicated the same numbers, he’s managed to remain one of the most consistent attackers in the lower leagues as he moved on to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, St. Louis FC and now Oklahoma City. In six seasons, Angulo has never scored fewer than six goals. This year the veteran has bagged eight goals, four a piece for St. Louis and Oklahoma City.

Concrete offers from MLS, though, have remained out of reach. Despite his proficiency, Angulo has not been in an MLS camp since leaving the Red Bulls.

“If a guy kills it in Europe, without a trial he’s automatically getting picked up,” Angulo said. “He’s getting an opportunity at a bigger club. In America I don’t think it’s like that yet. If I have gotten a chance, it’s for a preseason trial. They don’t realize that once you go to preseason, you’re turning down a guaranteed salary from a second-division team. I’ve found myself in that situation the past few years. I’ve gotten pretty good offers from these second-division teams.”

While MLS teams figure out to evaluate lower-league talent, Angulo remains focused on doing what he does best, to the benefit of USL and NASL teams.

“To this day, my mentality is just I’m gonna keep scoring goals until somebody decides to call.”