Is McKinze Gaines America's next young Bundesliga breakout?
The German Bundesliga is home to an increasing number of young American soccer players – Christian Pulisic, Julian Green and Bobby Wood to name three – and there is another exciting prospect waiting in the wings for his moment to shine: Orrin McKinze Gaines II.
The 18-year-old has been at VfL Wolfsburg since March 2016, having been spotted by the club in Denmark while playing for the U.S. Under-17 side and then impressing on trial. While he has made good progress over the past 12 months, moving to a different continent and learning a new language at such a young age has proved challenging.
"It was tough, but I knew it was something I had to do if I wanted to reach all the goals and aspirations that I have for myself," he said. "Obviously I miss my friends and family, I love spending time with them. I also miss American fast food – it's hard to find good stuff in Germany!"
"What sets him apart is his incredible pace. He's eager to learn – and still has a lot to learn in order to make it to the very top – but he’s a very positive presence and has huge potential."
His coaches in Wolfsburg are no doubt happy to hear that. Named in the U-19 roster for this season, McKinze Gaines has emerged as a key member of the side that is so far unbeaten in 2016/17 after 14 games.
A popular figure at the club, he is also highly rated by first-team head coach Valerien Ismael, a former Bayern Munich defender: "What sets him apart is his incredible pace. He's eager to learn – and still has a lot to learn in order to make it to the very top – but he’s a very positive presence and has huge potential."
That much is evident by the fact that the winger has trained regularly with the senior team and made his first-team debut in a friendly last year and is currently in the USA with the Wolves' reserve team at the Florida Cup. He was in the team's starting lineup in its opening fixture against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in St. Petersburg on Sunday, and provided an assist in a 2-0 victory.
"To win a match is a great feeling, but to do it here in front of American fans is all the better," he said afterwards. Indeed, the youngster has enjoyed being back on home soil and has been training with his teammates at the IMG Academy in Sarasota, where he was previously part of the U.S. Soccer residency program before moving to Europe.
"It's been a great experience playing against players from all over the world at the Florida Cup," he told Four Four Two at Wolfsburg's base at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. "The support has been great from all of our fans. It's been amazing."
He is now looking forward to playing in Wolfsburg's second match at the tournament, against Brazilian top-flight team EC Bahia on Thursday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando. "It's going to be a very intense game," he said. "I actually don't know too much about them but Brazilians are often very technical and they play with a lot of passion. Those two elements combined will make for a very exciting and tough match."
"I want to make the first team as quickly as I can. That's my main aim right now."
Wolfsburg returns home on Friday, with the senior side looking to improve its fortunes after a disappointing first half of the Bundesliga season left it 13th in the table. New signings Yunus Malli, Riechedly Bazoer and Paul-Georges Ntep have been brought in to bolster the roster, and McKinze Gaines is eager to join them there permanently soon: "I want to make the first team as quickly as I can. That's my main aim right now."
And his plan to get there? "I just need to continue to train as hard as I can every day, to try to keep getting better and iron out my deficiencies so that I can become the best player that I can be. I need to keep working hard to improve every day."