When Kyle Curinga decided he wanted to be a professional soccer player, he knew it was going to take a lot of sacrifice. There aren't many places nearby for a kid from Clearwater to get paid to play the game.
So after a stellar career at Clearwater Central Catholic, and one unsatisfying year at Florida Atlantic University, Curinga had an offer to play for a club team in Kokkola, Finland (population 47,722). He played there for two seasons before moving up to a higher club, FF Jaro in Jakobstad, Finland.
"From a very young age I wanted to be a professional and I was willing to do anything it took to get to that point," Curinga said. "When Finland came up, I jumped at it."
Then came a chance to get back to the United States.
At this time last year, Curinga was a trialist for the Rowdies, but was not offered a roster spot. He wound up with the Real Monarchs of the United Soccer League in Sandy, Utah. He played in 26 matches for the Monarchs, who won the USL regular-season championship.
After four years of living far from Florida, Curinga is back home. At least for now.
He signed as a defender for the Rowdies last week and this year will have a chance to play professional soccer back home.
The 23-year-old hopes this is another step in his advancement in professional soccer. But while he's here, he's going to enjoy every minute. He's been living with his parents in Clearwater, but when camp opens on Feb. 1, he said he will get an apartment in St. Petersburg to be closer to Al Lang.
"I remember watching them when I was younger," Curinga said. "They played at (Legends Field in Tampa) and then at Al Lang. Friends and family would always ask me if I was going to play for the Rowdies. At that point, I just wanted to be in Europe and be somewhere different. But always in the back of my mind, I always knew that it would be very cool, and something very good for my career, to play for the Rowdies."
Curinga showed talent for soccer at an early age. Former CCC and current Carrollwood Day soccer coach Jim Harte could tell right away that Curinga was more than average. He recalls a time during the third day of tryouts during his freshman year when Curinga made a huge tackle that caught the attention of the other players.
He earned a roster spot, which is rare for a young player.
"When he was a freshman at CCC he was the only freshman on varsity," Harte said. "So he brought the water out and he brought it in every day of practice. Even though he was one of our best players. But he always did it with a smile on his face. That's a kid who gets it. I knew then he would be special."
By his senior year, Curinga was dominant. He scored 33 goals, added 31 assists and was the Times' Pinellas County Player of the Year. But when he arrived in Finland, he discovered there were many more talented players who could score. Curinga moved to defender, which he took to right away.
"When I was growing up I played for Strictly Soccer in St. Pete," Curinga said. "The director of coaching, Hans Burt, told all of our players that you have to be good at every position. You never know what will happen. If I didn't have the all-around background, then I don't know if I would've been able to dive into another position."
Curinga was no surprise to the Rowdies. They knew he was talented after his stint as a trialist, and when a spot came open this season, he didn't have to try out. He was offered a contract.
"Kyle is a player that we had here with us last preseason and we were really impressed with him," Rowdies coach Stuart Campbell said. "He had a great season in the USL last year and we're excited to bring him home with the Rowdies. He's at the right age to really kick on and take the next step in his career."
When the Rowdies take the field later this season, there are sure to be several Curinga supporters in the stands. They will have the rare opportunity of seeing one of their own play at home before the journey continues.
"There are a lot of people around here who feel as if they also made the Rowdies," Harte said. "They feel part of the team now. I think the Kyle Curinga story is a lot closer to the beginning than it is the ending."