So, you just got drafted by a professional soccer team. How does it feel?
Taylor Kemp: [laughs] I mean, it still hasn’t really even sunk in I’m so happy to be in MLS and, even more importantly, playing for D.C. United. I’m from Maryland, been there for four years, right down the road, that was the club that like I always kind of dreamed about joining, and for that to actually happen is, ya know, I cant even really describe how happy I am right now.
Yeah, you don’t really have to do a big move, do you?
TK: Well, kind of. I’m from Denver, originally. So that’s where I am right now, in Denver. So it will be a big move to get out there, but I mean I know the area extremely well. I mean I’ve been to RFK many times, I know a bunch of guys on the team already so, it will be a long way to go, but as far as the transition, I think it would be the smoothest of anywhere I could have gone.
Were you expecting to be taken in the first round, or did you have any idea where you would land?
TK: My agent had told me I could go anywhere from mid-first round to mid-second round. So it was a big range, so no. I didn’t really know what to expect. So I was trying to keep myself calm. I didn’t actually know DC was interested, and you know I had said that was a place that I wanted to go. So when they announced my name, I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t really know what to expect, but couldn’t be happier with what happened.
How long have you known that you wanted to pursue a career in soccer, professionally?
TK: Since high school. That was one of the big reasons I chose Maryland, because I had big aspirations to play professionally. And that was, in my eyes, the best school to do it from. In the middle of high school, when I started playing soccer very seriously, and then I started looking at school, I chose Maryland. That was the biggest commitment saying this is what I’m going do, what I want to put all my energy towards.
Your teammate from Maryland, John Stertzer, was selected by Real Salt Lake earlier today. That is actually the team’s home opener, against Real Salt Lake, interestingly enough. So how does it feel knowing that you’re going to be matching up on opposite sides of the field?
TK: [laughs] That’s going to be a lot different. That sounds good to me. It doesn’t matter. I’m just happy for him right now. Its tough to think about what it will be like for the first game. Right now I’m just really happy for him and his new home in Salt Lake and I hope he goes and has a smooth transition. It will be weird matching up against him for real instead of just in practice.
You’re also reuniting with a former teammate, Ethan White. How do you think that will help ease the transition from college soccer to professional soccer?
TK: It will help a lot. He and I kept in contact. We were in the same class when we went to Maryland, so we kept in contact when we went pro, and we have ever since. He was one of the first guys to text me once it got announced. It will just be nice going into the locker room that first day, cause I’ll be nervous and excited about everything. It will be nice to have a friendly face in there to kind of show me the ropes and help me out when I need it.
So what did he say in his text to you?
TK: [laughs] It’s funny, he texted me about two or three days ago and he said, ‘Dude, I got a feeling you’re going to DC.’ I said, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything from them, but I hope so.’ Then he sent me a text that said, ‘Told you so!’ Then another one that said, ‘Congratulations, so happy for you.’
An accurate prediction from Mr. Ethan White there. There are also a lot of former Terps in MLS, a few of which are with the U.S. Men’s National Team for January training camp. What do you think that has to say about the strength of the Maryland soccer program?
TK: I think it pays tribute to what [Head Coach] Sasho [Cirovski] has built through the program. He runs – obviously I’m biased since I went there – but what I think is the most professional college environment you can be in. He makes you ready to be in the pros better than I think any other coach. He teaches you how to handle the expectations and the high standards that are necessary. So, I think he does a great job preparing and developing players for the pros, and you can see that in how successful a lot of the guys have been in the pros.
What kind of advice did he have for you?
TK: He just really told me to soak it all in. He told me to just enjoy the experience. He wanted me to enjoy the Combine, to the draft, and now, when I go into preseason. His whole thing is really just be in the moment of what you’re going through. Just take it all in. and to remember to enjoy everything you’re doing.
So, you’re landing on a team that made it one stop short of an MLS Cup appearance last year. What’s it like knowing that you very well might be competing for an MLS championship this coming season?
TK: That’s awesome. I watched a ton of DC games this year. And last summer I trained with the team. [Head Coach] Ben [Olsen] has done a great job at motivating the team and getting them to play well and they’ve got a lot of young guys. You can see it on the field. They play with a ton of energy and a lot of passion. It’s a club that I couldn’t be happier to be joining. That’s who everyone wants to play for, an exciting and fun team to be a part of. It shows because of how they’ve gotten better, and the year before they were improving. So, it will be exciting to be with such a high-caliber squad out there. I can’t wait to see where we can go this year.
You mention Ben and the energy the team brings and he’s certainly not afraid to play young players. How does that make you feel coming in?
TK: That’s one of the biggest things. That’s what I’m most excited about. Ben is a guy who will take a chance on anybody. You can see it with the lineups he puts out there. He’ll play young guys, older guys – It doesn’t matter to him. Whoever is playing well. That is exciting to me because I want to get out there and try to earn my spot from day one. And I might do that and I might not, but I know that Ben is someone who will give me that chance. That’s just another motivating factor that makes me want to play harder, makes me want to play for him, and just adds to the excitement of me heading out there.
Which players at the combine do you think will give you the toughest match up?
TK: I was really impressed with Kyle Becker out of Boston College. I was impressed with Dillon Powers out of Notre Dame. They were two guys that really stood out. They both played on my team at the Combine, and they were really strong forces in the middle that were easy to play with, that I liked. I thought that Erik Hurtado had a great Combine and will be hard player to play against in the future. Blake Smith was also someone that impressed me.
You experienced some injury woes last year – how are you feeling now?
TK: I’m feeling great now. During the Maryland season, I was out for quite a bit with the injuries, then I was constantly in a struggle to try to play and practice and so, it was tough because I was never really actually getting better, I was just putting it off. Then once the season ended, I was able to take off those couple of weeks that I needed and really heal. Now, I’m in a much better place than I was before. I have no hesitations about my injuries. I’ll continue to strengthen my legs and always be rehabbing to stay healthy, but as far as my injury goes, it doesn’t effect me playing anymore.
Who is your favorite player in the game today, either in MLS or in a different league?
TK: I mean its cliché, but Messi is my favorite player to watch, but I’m pretty sure he is everybody’s favorite player to watch. And then, in the League, I’m also biased, but I loved watching Graham Zusi play, of Sporting Kansa City. He’s a Maryland guy that some people didn’t think would be great coming out of college, and he really just exploded once he got with an MLS team. He did great. So I loved watching him play in the league.
How do you define success for yourself on the field? What is your measure of success?
TK: I would say how I define success on the field is being valued by your teammates. In your teammates’ eyes, you’re a guy they want on the field. You bring value to the team every time you play. I think it’s most important that your teammates see that –if you can get your teammates to believe in you, that that’s what I would consider success.