The name alone once made hardcore Metrostar and Red Bull fans dream of the possibilities.
Back in 2006, Haitian born midfielder Johnny Exantus was all the talk in Metrostars Academy. His goal scoring prowess, distribution and pure talent wowed fans and coaches alike – including former Academy boss Giovanni Savarese (now of the New York Cosmos).
But the world of Major League Soccer wasn’t the growing bastion of youth development it has become today. Bureaucratic red tape allowed clubs to have Academy programs, but not directly cultivate them. Teams were allowed a single Generation Adidas signing to the first team, thus eliminating all other options on the Academy level. MLS rules also prevented teams from taking on players younger then 20 years of age. That left Exantus, now 22, out in the cold despite mutual interest between player and club to develop their relationship on the professional stage.
“As you know, the MLS ruling forced me out,” Exantus told EoS. “But around that time, I was offered a pro contract from the Red Bulls and I was also offered pro contracts from FC Metz and also Belgium.”
A long and winding road kept Exantus on the outskirts of the soccer world, but this week, he eyes the start of a career comeback.
The InfoSport Pro Soccer Combine attracts organizations from throughout the American Soccer pyramid. Typically, the event works around the MLS Combine schedule, taking full advantage of the rare opportunity when league executives are all rounded up in the same location. There, talents from across the board gather to show their best in hopes of finding a professional destination.
For Exantus, it is a chance at redemption.
The last thing most had heard of the young talent was a dubious offer to play for an alleged “professional” fourth division Belgian side. Increasingly frustrated with the bureaucracy of MLS, Exantus entertained that deal, along with the aforementioned Metz offer. When that fell through, he returned to the home he knew with New York where he found even more troubles.
“I was brought back from Europe with Red Bulls,” he said. “I got injured and they didn’t pick up the medical bills so I ended up having to go back to school and me and my family took care of the injury.
“I picked up a knee injury (while playing with the Red Bulls Academy),” the midfielder explained. “Me and my family had to pay for the surgery. It was very frustrating because I believed I did everything a young player needed to do and more to get a contract.”
Once his recovery neared completion, Exantus tried to rebuild the bridge with New York but the sporting landscape had already changed. “Me and Jules, my guardian, we reached out to Red Bulls, but by then, it was a different Red Bulls,” he explained. “Alexi Lalas was gone, Mo Johnson left and they never reached out back to me.”
The painful memories of this time are still fresh in his mind.
“I think it was unfair because me and my team were the first to bring a championship to the organization,” he recounted. “I was MVP with 46 goals in one single season.”
Since then, Exantus has trained with his native Haiti on occasion and was even scouted and offered a contract by a team in Moldova called Olimpia Bălţi, which he did not entertain. Other than some sparse moments of activity, Exantus’ professional career took a momentary pause.
The coming combine offers Exantus an invaluable opportunity at redemption with a chance to showcase his abilities to a larger scale audience.
“My first option was to play here in MLS.” he explained. “My goal (now) for this combine is to secure a good situations that will make sense for me. I think I have the ability to help any pro team in any level. I’m open to play in any level to showcase my talent – MLS, USL, NASL or Europe.”
“I have decided to come back because I still feel like the world is yet to have seen the real Johnny X,” he proclaimed. “And I have a whole lot to prove to the world.”