Generation adidas Cup

"It's trying to find hidden gems": MLS great Pa-Modou Kah stresses patience in youth development

During his playing days, Pa-Modou Kah spent the final years of his distinguished professional career in MLS across stints with the Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Since his 2017 retirement, Kah has ventured into the world of coaching, specifically on the youth development circuit across North America. Having previously worked with Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2, FC Cincinnati and Canadian Premier League side Pacific FC, Kah is now in his first season leading North Texas SC, the MLS NEXT Pro affiliate of FC Dallas.

It puts Kah in a pivotal role at a much-heralded youth program, with FC Dallas developing an ever-growing list of academy players that have either been transferred on for lofty sums or broken through at the first-team level and international arena. In an MLS Today interview with David Gass from this year's Generation adidas Cup in Frisco, Texas, Kah discussed the beginning of his debut season with North Texas and his hopes for the future of MLS NEXT Pro.

"What people don't realize, I think a lot of people just think that automatically someone can go from being an academy player to a first-team player. No, it doesn't work like that because that's a huge gap," Kah told Gass. "I always say this to people: People have to remember when a youngster steps into the professional world there's only two things that really matter, it's results and wins. The big gap is there, that they have to learn is what is it to be a professional?

"So I think what MLS NEXT Pro is doing is fantastic because the younger we get these players into the professional environment, the better it is for the first team because also now they get clarity on if players are ready to be in that environment or not. So it's not anymore an experiment. No, we've seen the growth, we get time to evaluate him and we get time to see what his strengths and weaknesses are, what we can help him get better at."

Coaching a developmental side is much different from coaching one full of established professionals, and Kah said he's cultivated his approach accordingly. Now 41, two-plus decades of experience as a player gives him a unique perspective on what it's like to be a young player looking to make their mark.

"Everything is gradual," Kah said. "We talk about with my group, the first thing I do is make them understand that we're looking for high standards. But the best thing we're looking for in the players is their commitment. I always say players can commit to me if they can commit to themselves wanting to achieve certain goals. For me, that's what I say – it's a collaborative thing that we're doing.

"I've been a player so I understand what brings culture together, that's what culture is built on. Culture isn't built upon me, culture is built on [us] because we as a team, that's the only way we can succeed."

As he leads North Texas through the inaugural season of MLS NEXT Pro, Kah will be tasked with reinforcing and building upon the success FC Dallas's youth set-up has experienced to date. Thus far, he said the next generation coming up has left him with positive impressions.

"There's a lot of good players in my squad, also there's a couple young players that are in the academy that get to train with us," he said. "And I think the future's bright in terms of what we want to achieve as a club. It's always step by step. We've been fortunate enough to be able to sell players, and we all know good players come out of here because of the proximity of where Dallas is. Mexico is the closest border, a lot of Hispanics and Black and brown communities, which is very important because in those communities, eight out of 10 you're going to find are soccer players.

"For me, it's trying to find hidden gems together with the club to see what we can make of somebody. For me, that's where the beauty of football lies."

Listen to the entire MLS Today interview with Kah on the podcatcher of your choice (Apple | Spotify).