Over the last few years, Sporting KC’s gotten increasingly adventurous with its academy swoops outside its immediate realm of influence. At least in purely geographic terms, SKC’s Homegrown territory encompasses three states, more than any other club in the nation. Of course, those states are more sparsely populated Oklahoma and Kansas in addition to Missouri. But even then, SKC’s vision has been precise.
One of those late additions was a small, skilled and relatively unknown midfielder named Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal. The creative Malaysian-American had a short run with the U17 MNT, but it wasn’t nearly long enough to create anything approaching a hype nimbus around his profile. His commitment to Akron represented his growing reputation among those in the know, but on a broader look-at-this-kid-destroy-people level, he hadn’t quite arrived yet.
At least not in the U.S.
Wan Kamal spent the last few months with SKC’s USL arm Swope Park Rangers on an academy contract. That means the U18-eligible player won’t forfeit his eligibility and still gets the benefit of pro soccer until he either signs a full-time contract or joins Akron in the fall. And the early returns have been… good. Really good.
— Kurt Austin (@kaustin01) May 9, 2017
The sample size on this is obviously small, but it’s still an instructive look into his tidiness and on-ball savvy. And when this highlight package hit YouTube, it hit Malaysia as well. Hard.
350,000 views on a video of mostly routine passes on a second division American club? OK then.
News of Wan Kamal’s ascendance was picked up by Harian Metro, the largest circulating newspaper of any language in Malaysia, a soccer-mad country of 30 million. It quickly proliferated, to the point than Wan Kamal’s career became a thing of national concern for a country never ranked above No. 79 in the world since FIFA rankings were instituted in 1993. They reached their lowest point in 2015 at No. 170 and most recently settled at No. 153. Any news of quality potential national team players abroad, however the remote the possibility they’ll play for Malaysia, is viewed with a sort of hungry intensity fed by a World Cup drought reaching back to the foundation of the country’s FA. How hungry? Malaysia’s New Straits Times called Wan Kamal the “Malaysian Messi” in March after his SKC debut. Bold indeed.
Wan Kamal’s future is now of particular interest, not just to Malaysia but to Akron as well. SKC currently holds the entire deck, and one would assume if they extended a full professional offer to the 18-year-old, they’d fold him in immediately. But Wan Kuzain is also committed to arguably the best program in the country for developing skilled possession-oriented midfielders. There’s scarcely a better place for him than Akron under coach Jared Embick’s tutelage, and SKC no doubt understands that. A couple years with the Zips will hardly stunt his growth.
For now, we’ll have to be content with Wan Kamal’s prodigious highlight reels and his blooming fame in Malaysia. Perhaps it’ll bleed over to the U.S. soon enough.