Kevin Paredes DC United

Back in July 2018, slightly over a week before Alphonso Davies got transferred to Bundesliga powerhouse club Bayern Munich, Kevin Paredes was – just like everyone else – marveling at the Vancouver Whitecaps FC academy product’s latest starring moment in MLS.

Vancouver were losing 3-0 to D.C. United at Audi Field, an inter-conference game that was more about the District’s summer of Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta than Canada’s rising star. Yet Paredes, roughly 18 months before he inked his own Homegrown contract with the Black-and-Red, couldn’t help but be stunned by what he saw from the Whitecaps' soon-to-be global superstar.

It was the 93rd minute and Davies blew past three D.C. United defenders in transition, back-heel flicked his way past them once they recovered and bent a curling shot from 20 yards out to the far post past goalkeeper David Ousted. A golazo in every sense of the word, it was merely a consolation strike for the Whitecaps.

Yet it served as inspiration for Paredes, a left-footed attacker who was dreaming of becoming a professional. And when a future UEFA Champions League Best XI-level talent does something like that, you can’t help but be wowed.

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“Ever since then I was like, ‘OK, this is a really good player that maybe I can start shaping my play around,’” Paredes told MLSsoccer.com during a recent interview. “Then once he got put into that left back role and moved to Bayern, I’ve been following him, following his tracks, how he plays, how he defends.

“He was an attacking player at Vancouver and in the academy before that transition to left back, sort of the same position I’m in currently right now in the process of going to that more defensive role.”

That’s not to say Kevin Paredes is the next Alphonso Davies; that’d be an unfair comparison to make between an 18-year-old and a generational talent for the Canadian men’s national team.

Still, it offers a window into the confidence Paredes has channeled to enjoy a breakout 2021 campaign, thriving at left wingback in first-year manager Hernan Losada’s front-foot 3-4-3 formation. While he showed sparks of his potential in 944 minutes across 17 games (nine starts) last year, his first professional season was marred by D.C. United’s downturn that led to the departure of longtime head coach Ben Olsen.

This year, Paredes has two goals and has won two penalties in 17 games. He’s playing a vital role during D.C. United’s quest for an Eastern Conference spot in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, a journey that continues Saturday afternoon against similarly resurgent Atlanta United (3:30 pm ET | Univision, TUDN, Twitter).

He doesn’t care that he’s often the youngest player on the pitch, showing belief that he can ​​"go direct at my opponent and crush them.” There’s no shortage of swagger in the Virginia native’s game.

“I felt like last year I displayed some good actions, good things that I normally do, but I didn’t really show who Kevin Paredes really is,” he said. “This year I feel like I’m getting back to that stride, getting back to my old self and treating each match kind of like it’s an academy game: Be calm, be relaxed, be yourself.

“Because I feel like last year I was holding myself back a little too much, a little scared. Maybe I can’t beat this guy type of thing. But this year I’m going at every player, it doesn’t matter who it is, with as much confidence in getting to use my technique, my creativity.”

That growth from an at-times timid rookie to an established starter at a historic club doesn’t come overnight. Heck, Paredes still lives at his childhood home and spent chunks of last year’s MLS is Back Tournament juggling virtual schoolwork while bunkered down in Orlando.

But if things go the right way, you can start gaining attention from the right people. And that’s exactly what happened this past July when Paredes, whose parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic, was invited to train with the US men’s national team before their 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup triumph. Fellow D.C. United homegrown Moses Nyeman had the same opportunity, and they were both included on the pre-tournament preliminary roster.

Paredes’ first sniff of the USMNT came last season when he got an anonymous phone call and decided to pick up. Little did he know, it was head coach Gregg Berhalter on the other end. Thankfully, he didn’t let that one go to voicemail.

“We were just discussing positions and he said he could see me as our left back in the future for the national team,” Paredes said. “I was really surprised, being in his eyes part of the future was a dream come true. But he said left back position and I was like, 'Hey, I'm an attacker! But if that's where I'm going to get minutes then no problem. I'll play there.' He's been such a big help.”

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That’s bound to raise an eyebrow or two, especially since left back has long been a problem spot for the USMNT. Antonee Robinson (Fulham) has emerged as a leading option, while Sergino Dest (FC Barcelona) has deputized there to mixed results. There’s also rising dual-national talent Jonathan Gomez (Louisville City), a possible El Tri recruit, and two more MLS-developed standouts in George Bello (Atlanta United) and Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids, now Royal Antwerp).

Breaking into that depth chart won’t be easy, and Paredes may not feature for some time. Though he’s on an encouraging trajectory and has talked with his agent about an eventual move overseas to help fuel his long-term ambitions, nothing is imminent. "When nothing's 100 percent concrete in front of my hands, I try not to look more into it,” he remarked.

But it hasn't stopped him from dreaming.

“The whole reason I wanted to play this beautiful sport is to play on the biggest stages,” Paredes said. “That will be my forever goal, and also playing for the country I'm born in. Those two are things I have in the back of my mind, what I’m chasing. But right now it's just trying to win this MLS championship and anything I can set my mind to and work hard, I truly believe good things will happen later down the future.”

To get there, Paredes said he’s working with Losada and D.C.’s assistants to contribute more goals and assists. Like most young players in MLS, it’s about channeling their moments of brilliance into a consistent run over the course of a grueling, 34-game season and, if all goes well, embarking on a postseason run.

While things are already moving fast for the latest, quiet force in the ​​league’s #PlayYourKids movement, there's still plenty of work to be done – something Paredes keenly acknowledges.

“I don't think I've hit my final form or anything like that,” Paredes said. “I have lots of learning to go, more final product I need to show. But we’ll see, I’m happy with where things are going.”

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