Kuykendall with D.C. is a family affair

Another promising youngster is pushing hard for playing time in D.C. United's crowded midfield, and if family history is any example, it's just a matter of time before he's roaming the RFK Stadium turf for the Black-and-Red.

Local boy Shawn Kuykendall grew up in Vienna, Va., one of Washington's many suburban soccer hotbeds, before embarking on a distinguished college career at American University in the District of Columbia, where he was a four-year starter and multiple All-Patriot League and All-South Atlantic region honoree.

But his credentials extend much deeper than that. Like teammates Alecko Eskandarian and Kenny Arena, Kuykendall is continuing a household tradition of soccer excellence. His father Kurt was also a standout goalkeeper at AU before minding the nets for U.S. Olympic team and the NASL's New York Cosmos and Washington Diplomats, RFK's original soccer inhabitants.

Kurt passed his love of the game -- and his college of choice -- down to all three of his sons. Shawn's older brother Kris patrolled the American midfield until 2003, and youngest son J.P. is preparing for his sophomore season at Reeves Field. But Shawn is quick to explain that his father's exploits have provided less of a burden than an inspiration.

"It's a dream to see Pele's jersey in your basement growing up, and to see the Olympic team pictures," he said. "It adds a little bit of pressure, but my career is different. He's trained me from an early age, and he got a later start in his career. He knows we play for the love of the game, and he's never pressured us to do it when it's not fun. If anything it was motivation growing up."

Kuykendall, a fourth-round pick in this year's supplemental draft, was thrilled to be taken by his hometown club, not least because it allowed him to train with United as he finished his final semester at AU. It's clear that very little of that joy has been diminished by the daily grind of the professional schedule.

"I can't ask for a better job than to wake up every day and come play," he said. "To even get that opportunity is great -- them expanding the team roster and allowing us to have a reserve league this year has obviously fulfilled my dream. It would've been difficult for me, coming from a small school, to get that chance."

Kuykendall cites those day-to-day demands as his biggest challenge thus far.

"We've got a lot of good players on this team, so you just do your best every day to impress the coaches and show that you can play at this level," he said. "That's actually the biggest thing I'm working on right now: you'll have a good week, and then you'll have an average week. To get the confidence of the coaches to put you in, you've got to be consistent - three, four, five weeks put together where you're playing well every day."

Kuykendall has done well to balance his strong desire for playing time with a realistic understanding of his own learning curve, a tall task for any rookie.

"For me it's about personal improvement," he said. "The only thing I can handle is myself. If I'm getting better every day, then I can be happy with myself in that aspect. It's my first year, and to get my feet wet in the league in my hometown is fine by me. My role this year is to train and to get better. I understand that."

He's clearly making progress, having become a dependable performer for United's reserve squad. A debut with the senior team may be the next step, something United coach Peter Nowak has already hinted at.

"The (reserve) games are great for these guys, and they know that we evaluate them because of these games," said Nowak last week. "We're giving them time on the field right now, and we're looking - very soon maybe Shawn Kuykendall is next, Matt Nickell is next."

Kuykendall's ideal position is as a holding midfielder, but Brian Carroll, Ben Olsen and Clyde Simms are already battling for that spot on a weekly basis. With a crowded late-season schedule that includes U.S. Open Cup and Copa Sudamericana action, Nowak may choose to give the left-footed Kuykendall some action as a winger.

"As I've said many times before, if you're going to work in practice and you show in the reserve games and friendly games, you're going to have a fair shot on this team," said Nowak. "For all of them, the doors are open; if they're going to go through these doors, it's up to them."

Charles Boehm is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.