"He was definitely one of our better players," said Phillips, who coached Subotic when he played for the Salt Lake club Sparta Gold in the early 2000s. "He was really tall and big for his age. I always knew he was a good player, and I'm really pleased where he is today."
Subotic and Dortmund sit one match away from a Champions League final appearance. But Phillips still recalls the day the young boy and his father came to his office to sign up for the soccer club, speaking German with Phillips, who grew up speaking the language. Subotic played for a Sparta team of 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds from 2001-03.
"He was always a smart player and could read the game really well," Phillips said.
Phillips recalls Subotic's father, Zeljko, working as a truck driver but still finding time to be at his son's practices and games, watching in a tracksuit and offering advice.
Subotic's family moved to Bradenton, Fla., after two years in Utah. There he caught the eye of U.S. U-17 coaches, including former Real Salt Lake boss John Ellinger (who later tried to get Subotic to sign with RSL).
Phillips, a former player at BYU, has followed Subotic's rise through the soccer ranks.
And he'll be cheering loudly as Subotic tries to move a step closer to one of soccer's biggest stages.
"It's cool to see a kid do something like that," Phillips said.