Kevin Kelsy brings commitment and connection to FC Cincinnati  

20240430 FCC Training 056 (1)

At a training session earlier in the week, Milford, Ohio -along with the rest of the region -had its monthly weather siren blare out telling the community that the warning system does, in fact, work.

Fellow midwesterners like Kipp Keller were quick to share with teammates the reason for the alert ("It's a monthly test," Keller would yell with a smile), but the club's support staff was ahead of the game in alerting newcomer Kevin Kelsy of the impending test. The context was notably different from the last time he had heard or thought about hearing those sirens.

The club introduced Kelsy, a 19-year-old from Venezuela, Thursday at a press conference at Mercy Health Training Center. The striker, on loan (with a purchase option) from FC Shaktar Donesek of the Ukrainian Premier League, was acquired before the closing of the Primary Transfer Window but was announced only after his Visa was cleared and his availability ensured.

FC Shaktar Donesek is one of the powers of the Eastern European soccer world and a regular participant in continental competition, including earlier this year, when they played matches against FC Porto and Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League. But life has hardly been stable for The Miners. After the "War on Donbas," a phase of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the club left its home city. It moved its headquarters four times, now playing in Kyiv, the country's more centrally located capital city, further from the eastern theatre of the war, but still very much part of the conflict. Where air raid sirens blare out regularly, and as recently as one month ago, as the war rages on two years after the initial invasion.

"Everyone knows the situation that the Ukrainian country is going through," Kelsy said Thursday. "For me as a foreigner, it was very, very difficult, but in the end, I think that as athletes and footballers, you have to get used to certain moments, no matter how complicated it may be to be calm in your mind, to do the things you are going to do in the best way and put it aside.”

The desire to go on loan and join FC Cincinnati was not part of a desire to leave Ukraine or Europe specifically. At such a young age, Kelsy, who has already scored in the UEFA Champions League and played a significant role for his home country internationally at the Pre-Olympic tournament earlier this year, is extremely ambitious, setting his sights on the highest of the high for where the game can take him.

But he needs development and needs time to play games. An opportunity that was inconsistent while with his Ukranian club, not appearing in a match since December despite successes individually. While that playing time is not guaranteed under his new Head Coach Pat Noonan, the track record of development for young players the club has shown since Noonan and his staff took over was an enticing opportunity for the young striker to pursue.

“[FC Cincinnati] always have great aspirations and that always motivates me a lot. Competing for trophies, putting the team at a high level and in a great position, and also developing young players and taking advantage of that at all times. I think that was the most important thing too.”

"He is a very serious kid, I think, for his age. The level of professionalism is pretty impressive," Noonan said in his section of the press conference regarding his new young striker. "He's in the gym early. He's doing work after training…and I don't think that's (just) to impress. I think it's who he is. (He is) an ambitious kid who wants to get better and have a positive initial impact with our group."

It's hard to tell right now if the maturity Noonan sees comes by virtue of the player's situation overseas or if he's been able to thrive thus far because of it. A learned trait or one that he comes by naturally. The move to Cincinnati is, technically, closer to home in Valencia, Venezuela. About 6000 miles closer. Still, it is his second international professional move before most people his age have a chance to change their college major. And while the sirens blaring on his first full day of training have some kind of symbolism to the differences of the situation he finds himself in (if you squint hard enough) with his teammates laughing rather than…well…not…it speaks to the commitment to his ambitions.

Kelsy, who arrived at the club on April 23 but was forced to train individually and separately until his documentation cleared, has been part of the group in full since his announcement earlier this week and is available for selection per Noonan. Since being able to join the group, Kelsy has sought out assistant coach Dom Kinnear after each session to work on forward drills and concepts the club looks to implement. While Kelsy is primarily Spanish, he speaks some English, and Kinnear speaks conversational Spanish to help bridge the instructional gap.

As a 6'3" striker, FC Cincinnati's new player fills a unique role in the club as a big-bodied target forward. A skillset the current group does not have in its toolbox (at present) but can now utilize in different ways to vary the attack. Noonan highlighted, for example, how they have not been a club that has prioritized swinging crosses into the box as an offensive option this season. Now, with Kelsy as an option, his skillset may open up that option (and others) more, and the tactics can reflect that option in the planning.

"You try to play to the strengths of your players and now, maybe, look at scenarios where we can get on the end of crosses in a different way," Noonan added. "It's our job to put him in a position to use his strengths and help our team and how we want to play."

On the other hand, the player is fairly clear in how he feels he can help the team or, at the very least, how he wants to go about helping the team. He says that he trusts his coaches and teammates in the process of getting to that goal, but the end goal has been made clear to him.

"First of all, I want to help the team as I can, which is by scoring goals, and then also help them go for trophies," Kelsy said. "First in our conference, then fighting for the entire MLS Cup.

"Also I just want to play here as much as possible, keep getting the rhythm, always helping the team, which is the most important thing… To contribute to the team in that way, I think it is a great advantage that we now have with others. I can also contribute by talking like with Lucho Acosta, to Luca Orellano and knowing them, talking on the field."

Kelsy is available immediately for selection, and with the club announcing Wednesday that DP striker Aaron Boupendza would be out injured for the next six to eight weeks, an immediate need in the depth chart has become apparent. Fellow forwards Corey Baird and Yuya Kubo have performed admirably in the last two matches as the club went 2-0-0, with Baird scoring his first of the season and Kubo having a career-high of three goals through 10 matches this season. Sergio Santos also rejoined training this week after being unavailable for previous weeks, bolstering the group.

So depth is not an immediate concern for Noonan, and getting Kelsy involved in the system quickly will be dictated by the players' performance, not forced need.

"We won't force the issue, but I do think, based on what we've seen early on, that there's a good possibility that he's going to have an opportunity this weekend to be a part of the group," Noonan said Thursday. "We'll get through the next couple days, but I do think with what he provides, in that position, that there's instant value and an asset that we could utilize.

"Our focus will be on trying to get Kevin up to speed with how we want him to play on our frontline. Whether that's defensively and how he pressures the ball, whether it's movements and things that we're asking with the ball set pieces… We're trying to get Kevin to be a really effective version of himself early on and hopefully that has him on the field producing for us in good ways."

The goal is to let Kevin be Kevin and help him reach the best version of himself while lifting FCC to the heights it has been to before and beyond. In return, Kelsy says he intends to fight for the club and looks forward to meeting the home fans.

"In the end, what represents me is the desire to fight for victory in each game," Kelsy said in a message to the fans on Thursday at his press conference. “To really give them joy, score goals that they also enjoy. I’m anxiously waiting to see them and give them joy.”