From nearly the moment their 2017 season ended, Sporting Kansas City went in search of more goals over the offseason.
Barely 24 hours after their painful extra-time loss to Houston in the Knockout Round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, CEO Robb Heineman tweeted out an apology to SKC’s frustrated fans, pledging that the club “will invest in a new #9 and #10.”
The search to deliver on that promise took Sporting KC’s scout team to the Belgian first division, specifically the Antwerp province, home of one of the league’s smaller sides, KV Mechelen. There they came across a bulldog of a playmaker named Yohan Croizet.
“Brian [Bliss, Sporting’s director of player personnel] came to Belgium for five or six games of mine,” said Croizet in an interview with MLSsoccer.com before the team traveled to Arizona for preseason. “He said to me, ‘come to Kansas to visit the club and the city.’
“Before that, I knew nothing about Kansas.”
Sporting KC’s new No. 10 started out playing with FC Metz in Ligue 2, France’s second flight, then bounced to Belgian second-tier side RE Virton before finding a home at OH Leuven.
Croizet’s performances helped them earn promotion in the 2014-15 season, and he had a breakout in the top flight a year later, scoring nine goals and recording four assists in just under 30 games. When Leuven suffered relegation, Croizet moved to Mechelen, where he found the net a little bit less but turned provider more often, posting seven assists in his time with the club.
But Bliss offered him a chance to make a childhood dream.
“Before, when I was young, I had a dream to come to the US,” said Croizet. “Back then it wasn’t for soccer. But now, I am a professional player, and it gave me a chance to live out my dream.”
Croizet has impressed many in the preseason so far, specifically KC captain Matt Besler, who called him a beast for his ability to stay on his feet and not get knocked off the ball – and head coach Peter Vermes, who expects him to quickly make a name in MLS.
Croizet in action vs. Portland in preseason | USA Today Sports Images
Croizet has also gotten to know his new teammates quickly. He routinely posts Instagram stories hanging out with various teammates, most recently Khiry Shelton, and is building on-field rapport as well.
“They are good,” Croizet said when referencing his teammates. “A lot of them are [Hispanic] so they like to play off the feet, which is nice. I’m very happy to be playing with this team.”
Croizet could be seen bounding around the field during Sporting KC’s open training on Tuesday, laughing and joking with his teammates while finishing with his strong left foot as often as possible.
With the season opener now clearly in focus, and a big opponent on the docket in New York City FC, Croizet is eager to begin.
“I’m ready for the first game. I think the fans are amazing here,” he said. “I’m excited.”
Promotion to the top flight is the only team honor Croizet has “won” in his club career, and he’s taken note of KC’s modern penchant for trophies, Sporting having won their fourth in six years with last year’s US Open Cup victory. He hungers to taste similar success.
“Sometimes you come to a new club and a new country, and you want to win everything,” said Croizet. “Sometimes that’s not possible, but I think this year will be good. We have really good players and I think it’s what we need to win.”