Colorado Rapids' defender Kosuke Kimura participates during practice April 24 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. (Photo by Joe Nguyen/AsiaXpress.com)
Rapids' Kimura's dream takes him halfway around world
Japanese-born Colorado Rapids defender finds home in U.S. in pursuit to play professional soccer
By Joe Nguyen, AsiaXpress.com
May 15, 2009
Colorado Rapids' 'Asian Pacific Heritage Night'
Date: Saturday, May 23
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Place: Dick's Sporting Goods Park, 6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, 80022
Cost: $12 to $35
Come enjoy the Colorado Rapids' "Asian Pacific Heritage Night" and watch them take on the Seattle Sounders FC. Enjoy the fun, food, music and dance throughout the evening. For more information or tickets, go to www.coloradorapids.com.
Kosuke Kimura has come a ways to pursue his goal of playing professional soccer.
A long ways.
The 25-year-old starting defender for the Colorado Rapids has emerged as one of the team's quickest and most energetic players, but seven years ago, he was simply looking for an opportunity to play. That opportunity took him on a trip that spanned more than 6,000 miles.
Kimura was born on May 14, 1984 in Kobe, Japan, the middle child of Takahiro and Hideyo Kimura. When he was 3 years old, his family moved to the city of Kawasaki. His father played soccer and handball when he was younger and that influence rubbed off on his sons.
"When I was little, there was a soccer ball around us all the time," he said. "When I was, like, 6 years old, I joined a club team — me and my brothers. I really liked it and I kept playing."
A natural talent at the game, Kimura made the Kawasaki Frontale's youth team at age 14 and a year later he began playing for its professional reserve league, he said. He had a chance to sign with the pro club, but a foot injury when he was 17 hampered his opportunity. So he looked for post-secondary education options that also allowed him to play the sport he loves.
"I was thinking about going to college and playing soccer, but I wanted to study at the same time," he said. "If you go to college in Japan, you just either study or play."
Listening to the advice of his best friend and teammate, he began looking for colleges in the U.S. because they let him pursue both goals. What he found was Western Illinois University and its soccer coach Eric Johnson. But in order to become eligible to play in his freshman year, he had to learn English — and fast.
"This was a big risk for him and his family since there was no guarantee that he could achieve the test score he needed to be eligible by coming to the U.S and learning the language in one semester," Johnson said.
Early on, he segregated himself from the school's Japanese community in order to fully immerse into the English language, Kimura said.
"My college was not that big, but we had Japanese people who got together, like a community thing," he said. "But I isolated myself and tried to make friends and tried to speak English."
His diligence paid off and Kimura was allowed to play in the spring.
"On the second day of classes in the spring semester, he showed up at my office," Johnson said. " ... He knocked on the door and said, 'I am Kosuke, I am here.'"
His impact on the Leatherbacks was felt immediately. Kimura started 18 of the 19 games he played and was named to the All-Mid-Continent second team. By his sophomore year, he was named a team captain and helped lead the team to the national tournament.
"Kosuke is the hardest working and most dedicated player I have ever coached," Johnson said. "He lived and breathed soccer but approached all of his academic work the same way.
"His favorite saying to the team was, 'We must run more.'"
That hard work earned him more collegiate accolades and caught the attention of professional scouts. After he graduated, Kimura was selected by the Colorado Rapids as the 35th pick in the third round of the 2007 MLS Supplemental Draft, becoming the first Japanese-born player in league history.
Although he primarily played midfield in college, the Rapids converted him to a defender.
"I didn't like it that much at first, but as I started playing it more and more, I liked it more," he said. " ... Now it fits me very well and it fits for the team.
"Yeah, maybe I want to play midfield sometimes, but when it comes down, it's all about the team."
Even though Kimura is still the only Japanese-born player in the league, he said he expects more Japanese players to arrive in the coming years. But he admits he has to be a shining example to help open the doors for them.
"I have to be a good example for other Japanese to come in the future," he said. "I have to play hard every second in the game, every second in training. That's all I can do."
But for now, his goals are simple.
"Try to be one of the best right backs in this league and try to get this team into the playoffs," he said, "and get the MLS Cup."