On Tuesday I had the pleasure of watching the first-ever MLS reserve team match played at the magnificent new LIVESTRONG Sporting Park between the Sporting KC Reserves and the Chicago Fire Reserves. The Chicago youngsters remain undefeated in five matches after downing SKC 2-1 in the sweltering Midwestern heat. Manning the net for SKC reserves was none other than local player Jon Kempin. The eighteen year-old, who hails from nearby Leawood, KS, rose through regional powerhouse Blue Valley North High School and the Sporting KC youth academy to become the first homegrown player to sign a Generation Adidas contract and a professional contract with Sporting KC, which the Kansan did last August. Kempin earned honors as a Parade High School All-American and Gatorade Kansas State Player of the Year. He also enjoyed the thrill of making the bench for the senior team’s final 2010 MLS match, and one match this season, although he didn’t see playing time.
Kempin, who stands tall at 6′ 1″ and 170 lbs, has an impressive wing span. During the reserve match with the Fire, he also demonstrated the commanding presence between the posts and patience on the ball that coaches dream about – traits that reminded me of former Germany and Bayern Munich great, Oliver Kahn. I must say that after watching him in action today, he is the real deal – a true “keeper” in both senses of the word.
Following the match, I had a chance to catch up with Jon and chat a bit. Knowing that Jon’s cousin, Nick, is a faithful Bayern Munich follower, I asked Jon who his favorite German (torwart) goalkeeper was. He didn’t hesitate a beat. “Growing up, watching Oli Kahn during his prime with Germany in the World Cup and Bayern Munich, was great” he stated, also naming former Arsenal and Germany keeper Jens Lehmann and Bayern newcomer Manuel Neuer as other favorites. His favorite Bundesliga club earned my highest praises. “Bayern without a doubt,” Kempin said, “but I like watching the EPL. too.” Bundesliga Fanatics shouldn’t fault him for the latter because after all the controversial Lehman was the glue that held Arsenal together during Arsenal’s memorable 2003-2004 unbeaten EPL season, and was the Champions League GK of the Year in 2005-2006 after logging 853 scoreless minutes.
Kempin, a regular in the U.S. U-20 MNT system, was recently called upon again to represent the Stars and Stripes as the U-18 MNT leaves today for Northern Ireland to compete in the 2011 Milk Cup. (Hertha BSC U-23 forward, Jerome Kiesewetter, who put in a strong 45 minutes for Hertha BSC U-23 last weekend, is also part of the Coach Mike Matkovich’s US squad). When asked about the upcoming trip, Kempin replied, “I’ve never been to Northern Ireland, but it should be a good tournament. We’re taking a good squad, and will face strong competition in the first round against Israel and Mexico. This is our last tournament before we move into the U-20’s.” The US U-18’s meet Israel on July 25 and the Mexican side on July 27. Denmark, Georgia and Northern Ireland are the other three national teams involved in the 2011 Milk Cup, with the top four teams advancing. The semifinals and finals will be played on July 29.
Last year, the U.S. team won the Milk Cup by defeating hosts Northern Ireland, 3-0. The Americans finished up the year playing Die Mannschaft in Tel Aviv, holding their own in a 2-1 loss. When asked about his experience playing Germany, Kempin said, “the Germans destroyed everybody else, so we were going into the game thinking we’ll be lucky to come away down 2 goals, but we went up 1 goal. I was fortunate to stop a PK, but unfortunately the Germans came back and struck twice to win the game, 2-1.” The SKC reserve keeper has represented his country on four occasions prior to this year’s Milk Cup — twice with the U-18s and twice with the U-20s.
Jon shared his toughts on U.S. U-2o players, like Kiesewetter, who are with clubs overseas. “It’s nice to bring in the European talent,” stated the teenager. “They share some of the various techniques used at their clubs, which is always interesting.” Being the diehard Bundesliga follower that I am, the interview ended by asking Jon if he could envision himself playing for a Bundesliga club in the future. “I am continuing to focus on developing and improving my game here and eventually work my way into the Sporting KC first team and continue with the National Team and we’ll see what happens from there.” Obviously, the young man is a long way of achieving the renown and status of King Kahn or Neuer, but he is on the right path.
U.S. U-18 MNT Roster by Position
GOALKEEPERS (2): Cody Cropper (Ipswich Town; Athens, Ga.), Jon Kempin (Sporting Kansas City; Leawood, Kans.)
DEFENDERS (8): Michael Ambrose (FC Dallas; Frisco, Texas), Bryan Gallego (New York Red Bulls; Kinnelon, N.J.), Jordan McCrary (North Carolina; Marietta, Ga.), Juan Pablo Ocegueda (UANL Tigres; Riverside, Calif.), Boyd Okwuonu (FC Dallas; Edmund,Okla.), Jalen Robinson (D.C. United; Cantonsville, Md.), Javan Torre (Pateadores; Santa Monica, Calif.), Walker Zimmerman (Furman University; Lawrenceville, Ga.)
MIDFIELDERS (5): Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake; Garden Grove, Calif.), William Packwood (Birmingham City; Concord, Mass.), Victor Pineda (Chicago Fire; Bollingbrook, Ill.), Marcus Salandy-Defour (D.C. United; Kensington, Md.), Alex Shinksy (Maryland; York, Penn.)
FORWARDS (3): Jerome Kiesewetter (Hertha BSC; Berlin, Germany), Luis Rendon (FC Richmond Magic; Chesterfield, Va.), Omar Salgado (Vancouver Whitecaps; El Paso, Tex.).
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