TORONTO – You know you’re on the brink of something big when they’re paying attention to you an ocean away.
Japan is watching closely to see whether its native son, Colorado Rapids right back Kosuke Kimura, can become the first Japanese player to conquer American soccer and win an MLS Cup title on Sunday against FC Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, Galavisión, TSN2).
“Everybody, all my friends know about it and they put it in all the Japanese media,” Kimura said upon arriving to Toronto with his club on Thursday. “Everybody knows about it now. Some Japanese media are coming here on Saturday and they’re going to do some interviews.”
The modest, hard-working Kimura, who has been overlooked for most of his career in Colorado, has garnered much of the spotlight this week after his cross turned into a game-winner in last weekend’s Western Conference Championship.
WATCH: Kimura scores game-winner
If he can add an MLS Cup title, the 26-year-old will earn his 15 minutes of soccer celebrity in Japan, the country where his pro dreams hit a brick wall.
A member of the Kawasaki Frontale youth system at the age of 15, Kimura suffered a stress fracture that kept him out of action for 10 months. When it came time to make his comeback, he had lost his fitness, his touch and all hope of signing a professional contract in his native country.
[inline_node:309070]Then a friend of Kimura’s turned him onto the USA and collegiate soccer. He did two weeks of research and contacted more than 30 colleges, but he was turned down when coaches found out he didn't speak English.
“When I told them I couldn’t speak English but I was trying to get there, they said, ‘This guy can’t speak English, how can he even take a class?’” Kimura said.
This was an obstacle he was not going to let defeat him.
“I didn’t play soccer for seven months,” Kimura said. “I put myself to study English 10 to 12 hours every day and I slept four to five hours every day. But it worked out and I finally made it to college.”
From Western Illinois University, Kimura was not deemed good enough to be a SuperDraft pick and was only the Rapids’ second-to-last pick in the 2007 Supplemental Draft. He had to battle on Rapids reserve squads before finally becoming a starter.
“He’s a very, very hard-working boy,” Rapids manager Gary Smith said. “Daily he works at his game, he thinks about his game, he studies his game after his event. … We’ve seen a player develop quite nicely over the last two years.”
Don’t tell Kimura the odds were ever against him. He went from having no future in the sport at age 17 to the verge of becoming a champion – in a foreign country no less.
“It’s unbelievable and it’s kind of crazy,” Kimura said. “Somehow I got here and I’ve got to grab it and take that cup back home.”
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