Kevin Paredes, then an academy prospect at D.C. United, never directly overlapped with Wayne Rooney’s playing days in Major League Soccer.

But Paredes, who’s approaching the business end of his first full Bundesliga season with VfL Wolfsburg, vividly recalls the few times he interacted with the England and Manchester United legend.

There were crossings of paths at RFK Stadium, the Black-and-Red's old stomping grounds, when shock took over and Paredes wasn’t sure what to say. Similar feelings surfaced at later training sessions, ones interspersed with exchanges where youngsters like himself paid special attention.

“We were in the same team for the five-a-side team,” Paredes recalled in a 1-on-1 conversation with MLSsoccer.com from Germany. “That was a crazy experience because I just asked for small tips for us to win games. He just told me, ‘Give me the ball at this spot and we'll be good.’ I did exactly what he said, I gave him the ball, he goes, shoots, scores and I was like, ‘Wow this guy is crazy.’

“Even in those training sessions, he was a really nice guy to me. Like I said, it's not normal for someone who's a legend like him just to give me some tips and stuff and help me. He didn't have to do that, but he did.”

Rapid rise

Paredes, now 19, would likely be a centerpiece of Rooney’s rebuild project as D.C. United head coach were it not for a life-altering move in January 2022. That’s when Wolfsburg came calling and the MLS homegrown product secured a D.C. club-record $7.35 million transfer to the European side, making him the latest young American to chase Bundesliga dreams.

After primarily emerging at D.C. United as a left wingback, Paredes has become a first-choice attacking substitute under manager Niko Kovač. He has one goal and three assists in 19 matches during the ongoing 2022-23 campaign, helping Wolfsburg sit midtable as they realistically chase a spot in next year’s UEFA Europa Conference League.

Life’s moved pretty fast for a US Under-20 international who debuted in July 2020 at the MLS is Back Tournament, when now-Houston Dynamo FC head coach Ben Olsen subbed him into a match vs. Toronto FC. That was Paredes’ first of 41 appearances for his boyhood club, tallying three goals and two assists before joining the MLS-to-Bundesliga pipeline Tyler Adams (ex-Red Bulls), Joe Scally (ex-NYCFC) and more have traversed in recent years.

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Kevin Paredes celebrates a D.C. United win at Audi Field.

“Even signing with D.C. really shocked me,” Paredes said. “I remember at the time I was thinking about what colleges should I apply to, what college should I go and play at. Then out of nowhere, D.C. wanted me and it was exciting. Then out of nowhere, I played a couple games, do well and now I'm in Germany.

“A lot of things happen fast in football and with the correct guidance and the correct players that were on my team, the staff on my team, they made it all possible.”

Domestically, these tales have become increasingly common as clubs abroad scout MLS for up-and-coming talents. But that doesn’t detract from unique and special moments when everything comes together. And like most transfer-centric stories, things started with a phone call with an agent.

“I remember getting in my car, he calls me and I try to keep it calm, like I've been through these things like a professional,” Paredes said. “But as soon as I hung up the call, I was screaming in my car and I immediately called my parents, my mom and dad, my brother saying there was really good interest from there.”

When talks turned into agreed-upon terms and final details, the joy only increased. Paredes caught final word while hanging out with fellow D.C. homegrowns like Jacob Greene and Jeremy Garay.

“I left the room at the time when I took the call, I came back into the room and I just came up with a smile and the boys already knew what happened,” Paredes said. “We all celebrated together, we were all happy together.

“Probably 10 minutes later I went back home, I got my family together because they didn't know yet. I told them. I was in my parents' room at the time and I just remember my mom crying, my dad was really happy, my brother was really happy. But my mom was crying because the little baby in the family had to leave.”

Settled in Germany

From there, Paredes rode the adrenaline of a January window move to a top-five league in Europe. Focused on carving out a first-team role, there were still off-field challenges that accompany acclimating to a new life, a new city, a new club that’s six hours ahead with time-zone changes. Paredes, then 18, was experiencing all this while his age-group peers were heading to college.

“Out of nowhere you take a plane and you're on your own now. It's crazy to think about,” Paredes said. “I was by myself 4,000 miles away from my family. I don't have my parents to lean on at night or something like this.

“… Finding stuff at the grocery store or asking people for water or where the food is at, it was definitely difficult. I had difficult moments, but some of these teammates welcomed me so easily here. They helped me with anything I needed to do.”

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Kevin Paredes makes his Bundesliga debut in April 2022.

As Paredes got settled, his debut arrived late in Wolfsburg’s 4-0 rout of Arminia Bielefeld in April 2022. Atlanta United homegrown left back George Bello, who also moved abroad that winter (reported $2 million fee with a sell-on percentage), was on the bench for the opponent.

“When they put the [substitute] board up and they put No. 40 coming in, and I saw a club legend like Max Arnold come and tell me best of luck and stuff like this, that gave me full confidence to go out on the field,” Paredes said.

“As soon as I got on the field, I thought, ‘Wow I'm really in a Bundesliga game, this is crazy.’ Even though one of my first touches was I put in a cross and it went over the stadium, but we don't talk about that anymore.”

Now, with a full preseason under his belt and a bigger role in Wolfsburg’s first team, Paredes is coming good on his potential. He’s used in a variety of roles – “even me, I’m not sure where my best position is at,” Paredes said – and noted trust from his coaches and teammates to create in 1-v-1 situations gives him the confidence to succeed.

“All of it is okay with me, learning new positions,” Paredes said. “[Kovač] throws me sometimes at the No. 10 or 8 in games. They have full confidence in me to play wherever on the pitch.”

USMNT dreams

That versatility, combined with work ethic and upside, explains why Paredes projects as a big part of the United States squad that’ll compete this May and June at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Argentina. The tournament overlaps with the end of Wolfsburg’s season, but Paredes is confident he’ll be released and is hopeful their “special group” can “make it far.” The US have made three straight quarterfinal appearances at the U-20 World Cup.

Paredes is looking to continue far beyond the youth level, keeping an eye on the North America 2026 World Cup the Yanks will co-host. He awaits a senior-team debut.

“My overall goal is to make the first team as quickly as possible,” said Paredes, who’s also eligible for the Dominican Republic through family roots. “After this World Cup that happened in Qatar, I was really motivated watching the US play. I was, of course, 100% supporting the boys and all this. But I just really wanted to be part of the group at the time.

“Watching that, I was like, ‘Wow I wish I was in Qatar right now playing some games with them.’ … 2026 has definitely been on my mind and hopefully I can make a strong push for that and impress and help the country win.”

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Kevin Paredes on the dribble against England for the US U-20s.

Those dreams will unfold in due course, staying mindful of advice for those hoping to follow in his footsteps. Paredes realizes the position he’s in, joined in Germany by former Philadelphia Union midfielder Paxten Aaronson (Eintracht Frankfurt), former New York Red Bulls midfielder Caden Clark (RB Leipzig) and more in carrying the American mantle overseas.

“In my youth, at times I wasn't the most looked-at player,” Paredes said. “But for me, that never fazed me or stuff like this. I liked it more, it gave me more of an edge. It gave me something to prove and it gave me a never-give-up mindset at the time. Every training session, every game that I played I showed why I'm the best.

“So what I would say to young players is whatever's thrown at you, never give up, never put your head down, don't make excuses and stuff like this. Just work and you'll see a positive outcome.”

An outcome where, in Paredes’ case, it meant earning a transfer abroad within two years of signing his first homegrown deal.

“For me, it happened fast and it happened quick,” Paredes noted. “I hope it’s the same for more young players as well.”