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North Star in the making: MNUFC's Brent Kallman becomes a homegrown hero

In the state of Minnesota, kids grow up hearing about the tall tales of Paul Bunyan.

As the fables have it, Bunyan (measuring in at 18-feet tall) created the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota with his footprints. The man was known for his tirelessness, his willingness to help others in need, and a love for the great outdoors.

It’s fitting, then, that one of Minnesota United’s first breakout stars in the MLS era would have grown up with these stories.

With a listed height of 6-foot-2, Brent Kallman is the tallest member of the Loons’ defense. A holdover from their NASL era, he was thrown into the fray to replace Vadim Demidov after the club allowed 11 goals in their first two MLS matches. Since he stepped in, Minnesota has become a more solid defensive side, including a 191-minute shutout streak that ended last week

Kallman's a fan favorite in his home state. And not only has he endeared himself to the Minnesota faithful, the path he’s taken to get there is indicative of soccer’s growth in North Star State.

A real Minnesota kid

Brent Kallman was born in Omaha, Nebraska and moved with his family to Woodbury, Minnesota when he was four years old. The fifth of six Kallman children, each of whom immediately took to playing multiple sports. Brent’s eldest brother, Brian, was the first to start playing soccer. 

“My older siblings all played ahead of me,” Brent told MLSSoccer.com. “They laid the path, I picked it up myself. I was fortunate enough to grow up in Woodbury.”

Kallman as a youth soccer player in Woodbury, Minnesota. | Photo: Kallman family

All six Kallman siblings ended up playing soccer. Brian (a fullback) had a 9-year professional career, spanning Minnesota’s nomadic days as the Thunder, Stars, and eventually Minnesota United. Youngest sibling Kassey is a left back for the NWSL’s Washington Spirit. In total, five of the Kallman clan played NCAA Division I soccer in their careers.

“I remember taking a family picture one summer,” Brian recollects. “Kassey was still so young she wasn’t playing any sports. All of us were dressed up in our favorite sports jerseys, and Kassey was in a lawnchair as a spectator at that point. I don’t think any of us realized that she and Brent would be the two to make the top level in the US.”

As Brent grew up, he maintain split interests, playing up to six sports in a calendar year as he entered high school. During the summer moments away from athletic fields, Kallman developed a love of fishing – a staple in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 

“Back then, I couldn’t drive, so there were a couple lakes in Woodbury I went to,” Kallman says. “Powers Lake was the big one that I used to fish all the time. My grandma has a cabin in Nebraska. I would go five or six times a summer to do a lot of catfishing with my uncles and my cousins.”

A young Kallman checks out his catch. | Photo: Kallman family

During these fishing trips, the family was able to keep in contact. Even beyond the eight-member immediate family, the Kallmans are a close-knit group. In fact, the Minnesota defender admits most of his social life is still devoted to his family.

“I’m pretty low-key,” he explains. “I live in downtown Minneapolis, but I don’t go out much. I’m kind of a homebody. I have a lot of family over in Woodbury, so I’m back for events a lot. It’s good to see my nephews, but I lay pretty low.”

Playing D-I was always a dream of Brent’s. He played for the Woodbury Soccer Club, one of the most respected youth soccer clubs in Minnesota. Brian remembers the first time Brent came down to watch him play collegiately at Creighton’s Morrison Stadium. “After the game, I asked Brent what he thought of the stadium. He thought it was unbelievable. I told him he’d play here someday. He didn’t think he could, but I knew he’d be there.”

For most of his time with Woodbury, Kallman played a year up due to his incredible athletic prowess. Once at the Under-16 level, however, head coach Don Gramenz decided to cut Kallman and send him back to his age group.

“At the end of the U-15 season, he was one of our top-six players,” said Gramenz, who made 212 appearances with the Minnesota Thunder as a left back. “He was very versatile - if we needed a goal, he played as our target forward. If we needed to close out a game, he was at central defense.

“We were a team that was going to huge college showcases. The best Minnesota youth club at the time was Wings Soccer Club. I suggested to him that he played with his age level. I could’ve been selfish and kept him, but what was best for him was to move down.”

Among Kallman’s teammates at Woodbury was Calum Mallace, the midfielder who went to Marquette University and, ultimately was drafted by Montreal in 2012. Brent never did jump over to Wings, instead opting to join the Minnesota Thunder Academy from age 15, and the cut helped motivate him further.

“I was a late-bloomer physically, and my game was kind of falling off,” Kallman said. “This was during U-16, and I played that level twice. It was a wake-up call for me that I had to improve. It’s where I started to get a chip on my shoulder.”

Kallman ended up playing for four years with Creighton University in Omaha, earning freshman all-conference honors his first year after stepping in for the injured Greg Jordan, a future Minnesota teammate. After graduating, he had a six-game stint with the PDL’s Des Moines Menace before signing with Minnesota United in 2013.

Gamblin' man

Fast forward three years, and Kallman broke out with the Loons, becoming a regular starter for the first time and keeping Minnesota within a stone’s throw of the postseason. However, when he signed with the MLS side ahead of 2017, his addition was seen as something of a gamble. With one season’s starting experience in the second division, the jury was out on how he’d translate.

Luckily, Kallman isn’t afraid of taking a gamble every now and then.

While fishing kept him busy in summer mornings and afternoons, poker became Brent’s true second passion. He cites the 2003 World Series of Poker as the main catalyst for this pursuit.

“Chris Moneymaker won the tournament,” Kallman recalls. “I was 13 years old, and that was considered the poker boom. My brother Brad and I got really into it after that.”

While he’d been playing with his family, Kallman starting playing prize tournaments in 2013. Convenience has made No Limits Texas Hold’Em into his game of choice, as most tournaments in the Midwest favor that game.

Kallman (bottom left) at the final table of the 2013 Mid-States Poker Tour. | Photo: Mid-States Poker Tour

Brent was a regular on the Canterbury Park tables, winning a tournament in early November. By December 2013, Brent was a regional force. He placed third in the 2013 Mid-States Poker Tour Main Event, earning him $33,951. To date, this is his biggest payout. 

However, his burgeoning professional soccer career has kept poker tournaments firmly on the backburner. Many of the competitions take place on Friday and Saturday evenings and run as late as 2 a.m., making any participation on his part incompatible with the demands of high-level professional soccer. Though he’s not at the tables as much these days, Kallman still credits poker with helping him improve his performance in his day job.

“There’s a similar strategy you can take from poker and soccer,” Kallman explains. “The biggest one for being a defender is reading what the attacker will do before he even does it. Another would be that every opponent is different. If I can identify his strengths and his weaknesses, I can exploit him the best. Being a defender, I can stifle him. I look ahead at my opponents to figure out their tendencies.”

"He's one of our own"

If Brent’s focus is on his opponents, it’s just as clear that the fans at TCF Bank Stadium have placed all eyes on the Woodbury native. A fan created a two-pole banner depicting Kallman (who used to have a flowing mane) as comic book hero Thor. Meanwhile, Dark Clouds and True North Elite members have started “Brent Kallman/ He’s one of our own” chants mirroring the tune that Tottenham Hotspur fans have come up with for their own homegrown hero, Harry Kane.

“I think there’s more of a connection,” Brian says of the relationship between the supporters and the local players. “It’s tremendous how much support there is. There aren’t two better supporters groups that you could ask for.”

Kallman celebrates a win with the Minnesota faithful. | Photo: Daniel Mick / danielmickcreative.com

As Brent continues his debut MLS season, he’s been turning heads. Head coach Adrian Heath is confident that Brent is a key part of his plans, this season and beyond. For a local player, playing for his hometown team fulfills a lifelong dream.

“If someone watched me play, they’d see that Midwest grit,” the center back says with pride. “I’m willing to throw myself into tackles, and I’m brave when I defend. People that are from here usually identify with me. The fans have been great – I can tell they’re behind me. I’ve been here a long time, and it feels good to know I have the people behind me.”

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