Gadi Kinda on the ball vs. Whitecaps
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

How Gadi Kinda made a starring first impression at Sporting Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Gadi Kinda took no time at all to announce his arrival to MLS in spectacular fashion. His curling, weak-footed effort was one of the nominees for AT&T Goal of the Week, and proved to be the winner for Sporting KC in their opening game of the season against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Even to try to pull off a goal from that angle in his first 30 minutes with a new team was audacious but outlined the confidence of the 25-year-old Ethiopian-born Israeli winger.

“I think I’ve scored more beautiful goals, but it was [an] important goal,” Kinda, whose performance also earned him a spot in the MLS Team of the Week, told MLSSoccer.com.

When he arrived a month ago from Beitar Jerusalem, it was the first time he had left Israel since he was a young boy. It was a move that made him nervous.

“[I wasn’t] scared, but I thought a lot about coming,” Kinda said. “Because it’s not easy to leave everything and come here. But I’m happy that I made this [decision]. I’m happy with what I’ve seen here. The guys are very amazing. I’m happy for [how] my first game [went] and I hope it continues.”

Kinda scored seven goals and assisted on four others in just 16 games in the Israeli Premier League before making the move to Kansas City. There hasn’t exactly been a pipeline between the leagues so there were plenty of questions if his style of play would be able to carry over.

Film from his Beitar Jerusalem appearances show him all over the field, making the final pass, tracking back to make a crucial tackle, then turning and jumpstarting a counter-attack and finishing the play himself. While impressive, could a player who stands at five feet eight inches tall and 145 pounds translate that obvious talent to MLS?

“First impressions, you’re looking at a guy with his stature and you’re thinking, ‘How the heck is he going to ever survive on the field?’” SKC defender Matt Besler told MLSSoccer.com. “Especially in an MLS environment. It’s such a physical league. [We] quickly realized that he’s going to do just fine because of his ability on the ball. It didn’t take very long to notice some of the skills that he had. His change of pace, change of direction, his ability to dribble out of tight areas all of that stuff impressed me off the bat.”

Kinda’s natural language is Hebrew. But while he doesn’t yet speak very much English, It was enough to answer a few questions and exchange pleasantries. It certainly hasn’t been much of a barrier for him on the soccer side.

“I always think for good players, the soccer side is easy,” head coach Peter Vermes said at Sporting KC’s media day press conference.

“I commend our team. We have a very good locker room. Our guys take players in right away and make them feel at home. Part of that also is that when you get here, it’s great. But you also have to prove that you’re a good guy, you work hard, and you can play. If you do that, it makes your assimilation that much easier.”

Earning the respect of his teammates wasn’t hard to do for Kinda. Besler’s bewilderment at some of the things he brings to the table is a sign of just how quickly he gained respect.

“[For] me, a guy that usually plays balls into him, it’s amazing,” Besler said. “You can play a simple 10-yard pass that looks like the easiest pass in the world, and then all of a sudden he does something crazy with it and he turns his guy and he’s on the break. All of a sudden you’re getting a scoring chance just from that 10-yard pass that you’re playing him.”

Besler is far from alone among Sporting KC players and staff in being extremely high on Kinda both on and off the field.

“I was joking around at the game, but he’s probably my favorite player in the MLS right now,” Johnny Russell said. “Honestly, getting to see him in the game and in training as well, he’s exciting to watch.”

Kinda’s rise to respect and prominence within the squad was quick, and he’s immediately endeared himself to the Sporting KC faithful with that debut goal. But his teammates know more is coming.

“The fans, maybe not everyone would’ve seen [his goal] over the weekend,” Russell said. “But I’m positive he’s going to be a favorite here.”