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SSFC Spotlight: Kevin Paredes creates from the wing

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The D.C. United player is one to watch.

MLS: D.C. United at FC Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There almost seems to be too much American talent these days, a concept that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The national team only has so many spots, an intense competition for call-ups that should play out for at least the next few World Cup cycles. One emerging player encroaching upon the outskirts of the squad is Kevin Paredes. The 18-year-old D.C. United winger-defender is rapidly growing in prominence and was invited to train during the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Born in South Riding, Virginia, Paredes played with various local outfits including Bethesda Soccer Club, being scouted by D.C. United while on trial at Loudon United. He joined the youth setup of the four-time MLS Cup champions at the U-13 level, occasionally training several years up with the U-19s, and scored 39 goals in 85 appearances in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy league. In September of 2019, the club’s reserve side added him to the roster as an amateur.

After impressing in three appearances, D.C. United signed the 16-year-old to a Homegrown contract. “My mentality changed quickly,” he told the Washington Post. “Childhood days are pretty much over. I’ve got a get a lot more serious. This is a job, and it’s something I love to do.”

In his first season, Paredes made 17 appearances playing in a variety of roles. Despite a disappointing early exit for United at the MLS is Back Tournament, he began “showing flashes” of ability and “sparking a comeback” after entering a 2-0 match as a substitute. The period spent locked down at a resort in Orlando actually helped his adjustment to the professional game, allowing him to become closer to teammates and staff away from distractions. With Paul Arriola dealing with a long-term injury, the rookie was able to carve out a place in the squad as a rotational starter.

This year his trajectory has continued upward, thriving under new manager Hernán Losada who uses a pressing and up-tempo vertical playing style. After starting the season with an injury, Paredes has appeared in 12 matches. He scored his first career goal in a 7-1 victory over Toronto FC, making a late run into the box and finding himself on the fortuitous end of a low cross.

“Once the ball came to me, I swung through it,” Paredes said after the match. “I saw it go top bins, and I was very excited. My goal, for me, was a moment that I’m never going to forget in my life. My family is never going to forget.”

His next goal would come a few weeks later against Chicago Fire FC, another well-taken one-touch finish from the top of the box. The world is beginning to take notice of the attacker who is looking likely for a move to a big club. According to CIES Football Observatory, a research group connected to the International Centre for Sports Studies, Paredes is one of the world’s top players in his age group. Steven Goff of the Washington Post reports that City Football Group has “taken an interest,” with the footballing monolith surely possessing an ideal landing spot among its ever-expanding portfolio of clubs.

A dual-national, Paredes is also eligible to represent the Dominican Republic. He made several appearances for the U.S. U-16s, helping claim the 2019 Nike Friendlies title with his attacking prowess. Senior manager Gregg Berhalter is a noted fan of the young player’s game and invited him to train with the USMNT during the Gold Cup as a non-roster call-up.

Described as “competitive and fiery,” the pacey 5’6” Paredes can compete “physically against bigger” opponents whether deployed at left winger or wingback, despite the frequent size disadvantage. He is a menace, thriving in United’s pressing 3-5-2 with constant engagement, tackling, and interceptions. His attacking contributions are even better, dribbling forward and thriving in link-up play, with the potential to become a dominant two-way player that wields constant influence over matches.

“We all had to get really adjusted to the way we are playing – a lot more fitness, a lot more running, a lot more disciplined than how it was for me in recent years,” he shared with American Soccer Now, discussing the switch to the wingback role. “It took me a little bit to figure out what expectations and what [the manager] needed out of me… I’m really starting to like this defensive role, doing both things at the end of the field, getting up [into] the attack, and then when it’s time to close down on an attacker 1-v-1, I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable. I love tackling now.”

As a left-footed player, Paredes is comfortable on either side of the field but has expressed a preference for cutting in from the right, studying Arjen Robben’s game. According to a recent interview on the RFK Refugees podcast, he “still does not know what [his] actual position is,” an ongoing process to determine his best fit. His versatility and athleticism have merit, making him a potential asset during future national team camps with limited rosters.

Paredes is still an incredibly young player at the beginning of his career. Even if he does not manage to play a role during this World Cup cycle, the national team program clearly values him as an emerging prospect. His dynamic talent already captured the notice of City Football Group, with a deluge of offers surely to follow as his star continues to rise. These are truly exciting times for American soccer, with new hype trains boarding every week.