By Farhan Devji/whitecapsfc.com
A former Tottenham Hotspur reserve standout and Northern Ireland U-21 international has arrived in Vancouver, BC.
Kieran McKenna, whose promising young career on the pitch was cut short due to injury, has joined the Whitecaps FC Residency squad for eight weeks this summer as a guest assistant coach.
"I am very excited about coming to Vancouver," McKenna told whitecapsfc.com last week. "I know the Whitecaps youth program is regarded as the best in North America and I am excited to contribute to the ambitious plans of the club."
Born in Kilburn, London, but raised in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, the 24-year-old McKenna moved to Spurs as a 16 year-old. The central midfielder spent the next seven seasons with the English outfit, six of them as a professional. In 2006-07 season, McKenna led Tottenham's reserve side to a Barclays Premier Reserve League South title, while he also travelled with the first team on numerous occasions. But just as he started to gain consideration for Spurs' first team, McKenna was forced to hang up his boots due to a lingering hip injury in 2009. "It was obviously devastating when I had to stop playing at a young age, but with the support of my family, I stayed positive and looked to the future," he said.
Following his premature retirement, McKenna shifted his focus to coaching.
"Kieran’s qualities as a player are replicated in his personality and his resilience to deal with the disappointment of his career-finishing injury," said Tottenham Hotspur Academy director John McDermott. "He enrolled on his coaching awards, more importantly threw himself into day-to-day coaching with Spurs' young pros, excelling in this field as well."
After getting his foot in the door with Spurs Academy, McKenna also gained experience coaching with the Leicester City Academy and Nottingham Forest Academy, where he will be returning following his stint with the Whitecaps. McKenna arrived in Vancouver this past weekend for the first time, having just completed his year-end exams in the Sport and Exercise Science program at Loughborough University. "He has had outstanding academic results in his first year at Loughborough University," said McDermott. "Kieran will bring enthusiasm, integrity, and an expanding football knowledge to Vancouver Whitecaps FC over the summer."
The addition of McKenna should come as no surprise, considering Whitecaps FC chief executive officer Paul Barber's association with Spurs. Barber put McKenna in contact with Whitecaps director of soccer development Dan Lenarduzzi, who along with the club's senior manager of soccer development Chris Murphy, arranged for McKenna to come to Canada's west coast for the summer.
"We're delighted to have Kieran working with us this summer - and it's particularly nice for me to have a former Spurs player here at the Whitecaps," Barber told whitecapsfc.com. "Kieran's knowledge and experience of the highest levels of the game in England, together with his international soccer experience with Northern Ireland, will be extremely valuable to us this summer. We hope that Kieran enjoys his time with the Whitecaps and that our young players benefit from having him around."
Barber’s sentiments align with McKenna's goals. "I hope I can share my experience from playing professionally at Spurs and representing Northern Ireland, with the young players at the 'Caps," said McKenna, who captained both the U-19 and U-21 Northern Ireland squads. "Hopefully, I will bring some new ideas to the table and add to the work the coaches are already doing at the Whitecaps."
McKenna's connection to the 'Caps does not end at Barber. A former member of Enniskillen's youth soccer program, McKenna has known Whitecaps midfielder Johnny Steele, a fellow Northern Ireland native, since he was 13. The two played together from the U-14 through to the U-20 level with their national team.
Not only does McKenna look forward to catching up with Steele, he also hopes that working with players and coaches from a different continent will help improve his overall ability as a coach, as he looks to work his way up the ranks. "I am very ambitious and I hope to have a long and successful career as a coach," said McKenna, who would like to specialize in the development of young players. "Over the next few years, I hope to gain a wide range of experiences and continually improve my knowledge. I'm sure I'll learn greatly from this experience."
Although his coaching spell with the 'Caps is only slated to last eight weeks, McKenna is leaving the door open for a return. "Hopefully, things go well and I will return again soon."