Interviews

Wan Kuzain One-on-one: "It’ll be an honour to wear either jersey, Malaysia or US"

Born to Malaysian parents in the United States, Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal has gone on to play professional football there. The 19-year-old midfielder speaks to FourFourTwo on his footballing experience abroad, the Malaysian connection as well as an international football dilemma.

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Malaysia may have felt a little unfamiliar to Wan Kuzain when he visited for the first time earlier this month, but avid local football followers will be more than accquainted with the 19-year-old.

After all, he has already achieved several milestones since videos of him as a 11-year-old went viral in 2009 – including signing his first professional contract with United Soccer League (USL) side Swope Park Rangers in July.

Wan Kuzain and 15-year-old Wan Kuzri, on the same path as the former, are carrying Wan Kamal’s dream of playing football professionally

Wan Kuzain’s parents had moved to Illinois a couple of decades ago so his father Professor Dr Wan Kamal Napi could pursue studies at the Southern Illinois University.

They eventually settled down there and had three children. Wan Kuzain and 15-year-old Wan Kuzri, both born in the US, carry Wan Kamal’s dream of playing football professionally.

Wan Kuzain’s journey started with the Southern Illinois Futbol Club (SIFC-Force). It was a club his father was involved in and a stepping stone to the Saint Louis FC academy. St. Louis are a side in the United Soccer League (USL).

“SISC has done a great job in the local area to prepare kids for the next level. From there on, a lot of doors and opportunities could open if you perform,” Wan Kuzain told FourFourTwo.

“I eventually got into the St. Louis academy and from there, a lot of sacrifices were made. It was a two-hour drive from Carbondale (Illinois) and if you do the maths, that’s a lot of time on the road as there were four to five sessions a week. You also had to pay fees for the football.

“When I was little, all I could think about was playing football … but as I grew up I realised the sacrifices my parents had made. Not many parents would do that.”

It all paid off as Wan Kuzain was selected to join the US Residency Programme (Under-17) in 2015, being part of preparation and friendly matches. He also went to Dutch side Feyenoord for for short training camps over three years. The Dutch side at that time had an academy that won five consecutive Rinus Michels awards.

Wan Kuzain moved from St. Louis to Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City (KC) in August 2016, another step up in his career

Wan Kuzain then moved from St. Louis to Major League Soccer club Sporting Kansas City (KC) in August 2016, another step up in his career.

He spent some time in their academy before moving to the club’s development side Swope Park Rangers, who compete in the USL. He was still an academy player but made his professional debut in a 3-1 home win over OKC Energy FC in March.

Wan Kuzain signed his first professional contract in July and is keen on impressing in the USL next year, in hope Sporting KC will take notice of him and promote him to the MSL.

“I need to make the most of the opportunities I have. The first match I played was at home and there were a lot of nerves and butterflies. I settled down and then played my game,” he said.

“Signing a professional contract was huge. That was a good indicator that things were going the right way. Obviously a lot to work on from here but I believe I am taking steps forward.

“The immediate goal is to reach the first team. I’ve been training with them a lot because that’s the way it is in US.  Everyone is around each other, we do things together. First team players from Sporting KC come down to the USL too when they need minutes."

Swope Rangers won the USL Western Conference in November but ended up overall runners-up after losing the championship match to Eastern Conference winners Louisville City.