Imagine having spent two years in the Finnish army and then coming to United States at age 20 to find a new life.
And getting drafted within a month of setting foot on American soil.
And spending the next two years in the U.S. army.
And not so much as blinking an eye in protest.
During the Vietnam era.
Not for Timo Liekoski. For the unflappable Finn, it was merely another step on a long and curious road that took him this month to an appointment as coach of the U.S. Olympic soccer team for the 1996 Atlanta Games.
At 52, the circle had been completed.
"In Helsinki, I lived right next to the Olympic Stadium," Liekoski said, impressed by the apparent symmetry of his appointment.
Liekoski was 10 when the 1952 Games were staged in his home city. His memories of them are remote. He has clearer recollections of summer evenings playing goalkeeper on the soccer field or winter afternoons playing forward on the ice hockey rink.
Then came 1964.
Thirty years have passed, but Al Miller remembers when he first saw Liekoski.
Miller, then a future North American Soccer League and U.S. national team coach, was playing amateur soccer for a club known as the Kingston Kickers.
"I was the captain," Miller said, "and one night I saw him standing on the sideline and I went over and asked him if he'd like to join us.
"He said he was a goalkeeper. He was a great addition to our team. He was a nice kid. I started chatting to him, asked him what he was doing in America.
"He said he was looking for a job. He was working part time at a (Catskills) resort as a dishwasher or some damn thing. I said 'Why don't you go to college?' and he said he'd love to but he didn't know if he could get in."
Turns out he could.
Miller, who was coaching at New Paltz (N.Y.) State University, soon had a promising goalkeeper on his freshman team.
But Liekoski wanted to be more than promising.
"He came to me during the summer and said, 'I really want to be great goalkeeper, can you help me?' " Miller said. "So for two hours a day we trained in the heat of the summer and I killed him. I can still see him leaning over in the showers, just dead. He started turning out to be something.
"Timo had great reflexes. He was born with them. He was slow as a runner, but unbelievably quick over a step. So he was a natural for goalkeeping."
In the fall, however, Miller got his first big coaching break at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., a school that takes soccer seriously.
Miller took three players with him: Liekoski, Terry Fisher and Alek Papadakis. At Hartwick, the trio met Francisco Marcos and the odd chemistry of Finn and American and Greek and Portuguese sparked something into life.
Miller went on to become one of the NASL's top coaches and U.S. national team coach.
Fisher became coach of UCLA and later the NASL's Los Angeles Aztecs, among other teams.
Papadakis became a starter with the NASL's Atlanta Chiefs.
Marcos held various administrative posts in the NASL and today is commissioner of the 72-team U.S. Inter-regional Soccer League.
And Liekoski, well, Liekoski went farther than any of them and still is pulling ahead.
"I don't believe there was anybody probably more destined to become a top-level coach, more determined, more dedicated or more analytical, than Timo," Fisher said.
"Nobody deserves it more than he does. He paid the high price of not only staying with the program but surviving when the program wasn't there for him. Now, he has the unique challenge of being the Olympic coach, and it's well deserved."
Miller saw the promise early.
"I did summer camps in those days," he said, "and Timo helped. He was quiet but he had a great sense of humor and worked hard. He was great with kids. I always told him, 'You're going to make a great coach someday,' and he said, 'I think that's what I'd like to do.' So he was kind of studying it all along."
At Hartwick, Liekoski sat out a year, played two years as a goalkeeper and then, during preseason camp in his senior year, broke his wrist during practice.
It didn't slow him. He switched to defender and earned All-America honors that season.
But, as even his closest friends admit, he was not likely to have become a professional player.
"I would have to say that he was methodically skillful," Fisher said, choosing his words with care. "I don't think that skill was ever his biggest strength, but he was very determined, as well as a super-fit athlete, a great competitor. He was a tremendous goalkeeper."
"He was a very good player at a certain level," he said. "I mean, he would never have been a star because he was not fast, but he was a very good tactician. He overcame whatever he couldn't do because of lack of ability or speed, by very good positional sense.
"I think that he was earmarked to become a coach from the word go."
Liekoski earned his bachelor's degree in economics at Hartwick and later his master's in education at Whittier College, but by then soccer had him hooked.