Ex-DC United, New York Red Bulls midfielder Shawn Kuykendall passes away after battle with cancer

Shawn Kuykendall

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Former D.C. United and New York Red Bulls midfielder Shawn Kuykendall passed away early Wednesday morning after a year-long battle with thymic cancer. He was 32 years old.

While his professional playing career was short, Kuykendall's character and spirit left a lasting impression on everyone he met and he inspired millions with his brave fight against the tumor that eventually took his life.

The son of Kurt Kuykendall, a former professional goalkeeper in the old North American Soccer League, Kuykendall hailed from a soccer-centric family and was one of three brothers to play NCAA Division I soccer at American University.

He built an impressive youth career with Northern Virginia powerhouse Braddock Road Warhawks, the same club that produced MLS players Clarence Goodson and Abe Thompson, winning a national championship and earning a spot in the US youth national team player pool.

Kuykendall moved on to become a standout central midfielder at American and was drafted by D.C. United in the fourth round of the MLS Supplemental Draft in 2005. He was a reserve on United's strong squad that season, making two appearances before an offseason trade to the Red Bulls, where he played the following season before a serious knee injury prompted him to move on to a coaching career.

Kuykendall served as an assistant at his alma mater, coached a local youth team and founded his own training academy for youth players and teams in the Washington region. He also assisted with United's network of summer camps.

Last spring, after experiencing sudden torso pains, Kuykendall learned an apple-sized tumor had lodged itself in his chest. He was diagnosed with Stage IV thymic cancer, an advanced stage which led to several rounds of painful chemotherapy.

He lost weight and hair as he was racked by the crippling side effects of his treatment. But his relentless positivity and deeply rooted faith inspired his family and the countless friends he'd made through his service to the sport, as they spread his catchphrase, “Kuykenstrong."

Even US national teamers and MLS stars like Goodson, Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi and Thierry Henry wore T-shirts emblazoned with the motto during last summer's Gold Cup and MLS All-Star festivities.

And when Kuykendall provided The Washington Post with full access to his ordeal last year, many more were moved by his story thanks to the work of Post writer Rick Maese.

“God has a plan,” Kuykendall told friends as his condition worsened last fall. “Live or die. I win. Will continue to fight. But can’t lose hope.”