Kevan’s kickin’ it

George celebrates after scoring “one of the program’s best goals ever,” Cameron Cooksey (9) said. Photo courtesy of Gary Green.

Gary Green

George celebrates after scoring “one of the program’s best goals ever,” Cameron Cooksey (9) said. Photo courtesy of Gary Green.

The team sprints up the field. The ball dancing between their feet, they play close together – short and fast. With a pass wide, the winger bursts into the corner. The defenders quickly approach him. He looks up, panicking ever so slightly as he cannot find him, the star player – Kevan George. Suddenly, spotting George moving down the center of the field, he crosses the ball. Swinging his foot in one smooth rotation, George meets the ball 35 yards from goal. The ball swerves past the goalie and smacks the crossbar, dropping calmly into the net behind him.

George began playing soccer on the streets of Roxborough, Trinidad and Tobago. At the age of 12, his family moved to Decatur to find opportunities for George in soccer. Their migration paid off. After careers at Decatur and the University of Central Florida (UCF), the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer (MLS) selected George in the 2012 MLS Superdraft with the 29th pick.

George first began playing to satisfy cultural expectations.

“I started playing because it was part of my culture. It was as if you had to,” George said. “I fell in love with it and never looked back.”

As a child, George learned that his uncle played professionally in Trinidad. So, when he first touched a ball, he also dreamed of playing professionally.

“It was always my goal since I was back in Trinidad to play professional soccer,” he said. “I would play with my cousins and my brothers on the streets back home. We did it so much, it became like walking.”

Trinidadian soccer, however, does have limitations. According to George, access to quality coaches and teams in Trinidad sets budding phenomenons back.

“The US is the land of opportunity,” George said, “so we figured that I could give myself a better shot by moving here.”

After migrating, George had trouble making friends; however, he appreciates not having luck socially, as it helped him with soccer.

“I used to go train with my dad after school,” George said. “It helped me adjust [to moving] and get better.”

Even at a young age, George did not avoid the approving eye of coaches.

“I would see him when he was 12 working on skills and knocking the ball back to his dad, hundreds and hundreds of times,” said Doug Altizer, George’s varsity soccer coach. “That paid off, his skill level was fantastic.”

Yet, according to Altizer, ability alone does not define great players. “There are a lot of kids that have the skill, but many don’t have the vision and the mental component of the game,” Altizer said. “Kevan had both, and a lot of that was just innate.”

Because of his skill level, George had the opportunity to play at high levels for his club team, the Concorde Fire. In 2007, his Under-17 Fire team won the Disney Soccer Showcase Tournament, which included a number of top youth teams like Chelsea FC’s from London.

Likewise, George accelerated through the ranks of the United States’ Olympic Development Program (ODP), which promotes young soccer talent. He progressed to the region wide ODP team in 2003, only a year after migrating. Yet, citizenship issues stopped him short of the youth national team – a feat which he could have accomplished.

“I have no doubt [George] would have made his way to the [national team],” Altizer said. “He was that good.”

Additionally, ever on the lookout for prospects, college coaches discovered George as early as two years after leaving Trinidad.

“We spotted him when he was a ninth grader,” Bryan Cunningham, UCF’s head coach said. “When we found him, we knew that he could help develop our team into a national contender.”

Although, according to Altizer, any college team in the country would have been happy to have him, George realized that he needed to go to a university in Florida.

“My immigration status made it so that I couldn’t get a full ride to schools like Wake Forest or the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill,” George said. “My parents couldn’t afford to send me to those schools, and Florida laws being more lenient, I could get a full scholarship to a university there. So, I chose UCF.”

 

George’s dedication to improvement inspired many of his former  UCF teammates.  “[George] would initiate extra workouts because he  has an incredible amount of drive and heart,” said Warren Creavalle,  former UCF player and current Houston Dynamo center back. Photo courtesy of Andrew Katsampes.
George’s dedication to improvement inspired many of his former
UCF teammates. “[George] would initiate extra workouts because he
has an incredible amount of drive and heart,” said Warren Creavalle,
former UCF player and current Houston Dynamo center back. Photo courtesy of Andrew Katsampes.

The Knights to the Crew

George’s transition between high school and collegiate soccer with the UCF Knights took less time than he had originally expected.

“I went there expecting the worst, so I trained hard that summer,” George said. “Really, it wasn’t that bad, and it only took me about three weeks to transition.”

Likewise, Cunningham valued George highly as a young player at UCF.

“Even as a freshman, we thought he was an excellent player,” Cunningham said. “For us, he was charismatic, tenacious and aggressive. He served a twofold purpose on our team as he steadied the defense from the midfield, and he allowed the attack to be more liberal since they knew they had him to cover for them.”

As a leading scorer for UCF with four goals his freshman year, the head coaches of Conference USA elected him to the All-Conference First Team in 2008, an act which he later repeated in 2009 and 2011. From then on, opposing coaches had to account for him.

“There are always two or three guys that we always try to keep a player on,” said Justus
Griffin, assistant coach of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “UCF’s play went through Kevan, so we always wanted to know where he was on the field, especially on set pieces.”

Appreciation for George’s ability did not end with collegiate coaches, however. As an upperclassman, a number of MLS teams divulged their interest in George.

“In his junior and senior year, he really began to turn it on,” Cunningham said, “and a number of MLS teams began to call me to ask about who he was.”

Finally, the Columbus Crew drafted George in the second round of the 2012 Superdraft.

Columbus’ technical director, Brian Bliss, praised George on thecrew.com.

“He has a physical presence [6’2”], but he’s got very good feet,” Bliss said. “He’s able to wiggle out of trouble and find passes to break pressure and jump start an attack.”

Despite the praise, George did not play as much as he would have liked, appearing only seven times during the 2012 season.

“I was slightly disappointed,” he said. “We started the season poorly, so the coach wanted to have more experienced players playing throughout the season.”

Yet, according to numerous pundits and bloggers, George outplayed his salary during his rookie year when given opportunities. Thus, George continued to attract opposing coaches’ interest.

“Although my agent doesn’t want me to divulge any details, a number of teams around the league have expressed interest in getting me,” he said.

Lack of playing time in his rookie year will not cause George to look for opportunities elsewhere.

“Based on the feedback that I have gotten from the coaches, I expect to be playing a lot more this season,” George said.

 

George celebrates after scoring “one of the program’s best goals ever,” Cameron Cooksey (9) said. Photo courtesy of Gary Green.
George celebrates after scoring “one of the program’s best goals ever,” Cameron Cooksey (9) said. Photo courtesy of Gary Green.

Back to Trinidad

Although he played all three of Trinidad’s Under-23 Olympic qualifying games before his rookie season, George’s first call-up to the senior team did not come until last winter.

Because of communication problems, the team left for the Gold Cup qualifying games without him. Despite the setback, George feels determined to appear for Trinidad.

“I do feel confident that I will get to play in Gold Cup games this summer,” George said. “I just have to stay on top of things so I don’t fall through the cracks.”

Although an appearance this summer remains uncertain for George, his love of soccer, even after fourteen years of work, persists unfalteringly.

“Honestly, I have worked so hard to be where I am,” George said. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”