TUKWILA, Wash. – Kim Kee-Hee has only been in the United States for a few months. The Seattle Sounders hope it's long enough to help the South Korean international prepare to be a back line anchor for the back-to-back MLS Western Conference champions.
With starter Roman Torres out with a hamstring injury and trying to rehab in time to represent Panama at the World Cup this summer, Kim will be tasked with taking over the primary center back role for Seattle next to stalwart Chad Marshall.
After Seattle officially signed Kim in February following a two-season run with Shanghai Shenhua of the Chinese Super League, he made his team debut against FC Dallas on March 18 and has logged 246 minutes over four MLS matches since. It’s been an adjustment, both on the field and from a cultural standpoint, but Kim says he feels as though he’s getting more and more comfortable with his new surroundings.
“I am transitioning very well, I think,” Kim said Friday, speaking through an interpreter. “MLS is tougher than the [Chinese Super League], but I think I’m on the right track. It’s physically tougher.
“I used to play in Asia and they’re faster and rely more on speed. MLS feels more like European style. It’s more physical, definitely. …I’ve been everywhere playing soccer. The language is hard to learn, but other than that, the USA has been really good to me.”
Most professional soccer teams feature players from all over the world. But even in a diverse sport, the Sounders’ back line is exceptionally so. When Cameroonian left back Nouhou, a French-speaker, is on the field at the same time as Kim and the American Marshall, three out of Seattle’s four starting defenders speak different languages.
At an area of the field where communication is paramount, it can be a challenge. But Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said the group's collective understanding has been improving
“The language barrier is getting better,” Schmetzer said on Friday. “I think Chad’s trying to learn some Korean, Kim is taking English lessons, so the more they play together, it’ll come together for them. They’re both super talented defenders, so they’ll figure it out.”
Kim also said the transition is easier playing next to the 33-year-old Marshall, who is one of the most dominant defenders in MLS history and the only one to win the league’s Defender of the Year award three times.
"I know Chad Marshall is a great player,” Kim said. “He's a legendary player. He's one of the best. I know I've got his back and he has my back too."
Kim had been in the picture for South Korea’s national team, which is getting set for a World Cup venture of its own, and he has 23 career senior national team caps to his name. However, not starting regularly in Seattle hurt his chances, and he ultimately wasn’t named to South Korea’s preliminary 28-man roster.
Even so, Kim said he’ll be keeping close tabs on how his country is doing and hoping for a deep run while he’s tasked with holding down the fort in Seattle.
“I know we have to face a lot of strong teams like Sweden, Mexico and Germany,” he said. “But it’s soccer, you never know what’s going to happen. I’m just rooting for my team.”