KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kevin Ellis’ road to Major League Soccer was equal parts traditional and out of the ordinary.
On one hand, Ellis is the second Sporting Kansas City junior player to be promoted to the full team, starting in the Under-16 team and progressing all the way through the U-19s to join goalkeeper Jon Kempin as the club’s inaugural Home Grown signings.
On the other hand, Ellis chose a slightly unordinary route on his way to the Sporting first team, spending two seasons at Barton County Community College in Great Bend, Kan., before making the jump to the professional game this season. And although he is still adjusting to a positional shift to right back, Ellis has proven to be a quick learner.
MLSsoccer.com sat down with the 19-year-old to discuss his road to professional soccer, his experiences as a full-fledged member of Sporting thus far, as well as his long-term goals in the game.
MLSsoccer.com: It’s been about two months since your first professional season began. What has it been like?
Ellis: It’s been a dream of mine since I started playing soccer. To be able to actually do it is an unreal feeling every day, waking up and being able to come out here and play the sport that I love.
MLSsoccer.com: Lots of rookies talk about the level of intensity day-to-day and the speed of play. Has that suprised you?
Ellis: Not really. Before I came in, Peter [Vermes] had talked to me and told me, “You’ve got to be fit. You’ve got to work hard. It’s not a joke, and you have to be prepared for it.” I told him I would be.
Talking to some of the guys before we started, I kind of had a good idea about how intense the training sessions were. I’ve just been working hard trying to keep up with these guys. I’m beginning to get more and more comfortable. I think I’m doing alright.
MLSsoccer.com: You were on the bench vs. New York and Columbus. Is that a pretty good indication that you are doing alright, or does it feel like one step in the journey to where you want to be?
Ellis: That’s just one step in many steps that I want to accomplish in my career. To be able to be on the bench and travel to places like New York and Columbus is a dream. To be a part of the game, even sitting on the bench, is unbelievable.
MLSsoccer.com: When you came out of high school and decided to go to Barton, did you feel like where you are now was a legitimate goal for you in that timeframe?
Ellis: Yeah, I made it a goal of mine. I came here once before and Pete told me I wasn’t ready. I told him when I came back, I was going to be ready. Every day when I was at school, it was just school, working out, getting fit and preparing for the opportunity.
MLSsoccer.com: You played forward your first year at Barton, then moved into defense. Was that a move with an eye toward your professional future?
Ellis: At first, it was a team thing. At Barton, I was kind of the guy who fit needs. If we didn’t have a forward, I played forward. When I went in the back and started to get comfortable, it hit me that I could play the game back there.
MLSsoccer.com: Most people don’t look at the junior college route as necessarily the best road to pro soccer. What about Barton made it best fit for you?
Ellis: I just found the right place. I think that’s everyone’s goal when they are going to school — to find the right place. I chose the junior college route because the coach at Barton [Oliver Twelvetrees] told me he would help me and prepare me for playing soccer in the future as opposed to just winning there.
MLSsoccer.com: What is it about your skill set that has allowed you to successfully transition to right back?
Ellis: I take pride in not getting beat one-on-one. With my speed and pace going forward and attacking mindset, I feel like that’s my main quality.
MLSsoccer.com: What do you need to improve on?
Ellis: Just growing into the position, knowing where to be and not having to think about it, automatically getting to the spots.
MLSsoccer.com: What are your long-term goals when it comes to your career?
Ellis: I just need to keep that same attitude, coming every day to get better and eventually become a starter and an everyday player in this league in the near future. I’m just working harder every day to do that and be better technically, tactically and physically.
MLSsoccer.com: The league seems to really be placing an emphasis on developing from the academies. Does it give you a sense of pride or accomplishment that you were able to climb from the Sporting juniors to this point?
Ellis: Yeah, I think that’s every kid’s goal when they have the opportunity to play with a professional club. When you are training and see the professional team training at the same time, you want to be on the other side of the fence. Seeing that every day in the summers, I said to myself, “That’s where I want to be.”
I just worked hard to do it, got some good advice, listened, studied how these guys play and tried to develop the best I could.