If you needed to know what scoring his first goal in Major League Soccer meant to Vancouver Whitecaps FC Homegrown midfielder Kianz Froese, the joy was clearly written all over his face for everyone to see.
Wheeling away, grinning from ear to ear, Froese's goal was not only an important personal milestone, it proved to be the match winner for the ‘Caps in their 2-1 victory at New York Red Bulls last Saturday.
— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) June 21, 2015
"What went through my mind was "Did it really go in? Really?" said Froese, who dedicated the goal to his ailing father. "Then it was 'Oh my god, I've scored.’ That essentially was what was going through my head. I thought I can't believe this, this is amazing. Then I just had a feeling in my stomach. It's indescribable really.”
“In MLS, goals are the big weight. My first one and it was a dream. In my head, I've always dreamed of it and now finally it's a reality. Sometimes, even today, I wonder and I say to myself did I really score? Is this really true? And it is.”
Froese signed an MLS Homegrown contract with Vancouver in September 2014, having been with the club's Residency program since 2012.
Always a regular scorer at youth level with both the ‘Caps and Canada, Froese's first pro goal came in his seventh MLS appearance. It could have come four weeks earlier at Colorado when Froese found himself with space in the box but he pulled his effort wide right.
It was a squandered opportunity that really bothered him.
“I took my touch and I scuffed it," Froese mused. “[Assistant coach Gordon Forrest] had told me earlier you'll probably get a chance this game, and that was my chance and I missed. I was upset after that. I felt I needed to score that.”
Mentally, bouncing back from that miss and taking the next chance presented to him was huge, and the way Froese responded has delighted his head coach, Carl Robinson, who has been a long time admirer of the midfielder's talent and potential.
“I think it was vitally important [that he finished it]," Robinson said of the mental aspect of Froese scoring against New York. "That was my teaching point to him after the game. Three or four weeks earlier he had the opportunity and he snatched at it because he got uptight in front of goal and was nervous, as most young players are.”
“Four weeks down the line, he's managed to stay composed and slide the ball into the bottom corner against a top, top goalkeeper. Whatever he's done in that period of time, he's shown he's able to take information on board and learn from different situations.”
That learning aspect of Froese, both on and off the pitch, has been instilled in him since an early age.
Born in Havana, Cuba to a Canadian father and a Cuban mother, Froese moved to Canada when he was a one-year-old, settling in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His early years were spent mostly in Canada, with some vacation time in Cuba, but that was soon to change by the time he got to fourth grade.
“When I was little I got to go for three months and spend a lot of time in Cuba,” Froese explained. “But then when I got old enough my mom wanted me to learn Spanish and be fluent and then be able to read and write it.”
“So I went there and I studied there and went to a special sports school. I played like any other kid. I wore a uniform to school everyday and everything. Just in the regular system like all the other boys, and learned.”
Living with his aunt, Froese spent fourth grade in Cuba, a little of fifth grade, then headed back for grades six, seven, and eight. His parents stayed back in Canada but visited when they could and he tried to spend his summers in Manitoba.
“It varied from year to year,” Froese said. “Fourth grade was really my first year there, so I didn't know how to write in Spanish or read or any of that. I knew the language and how talk it, I just didn't know any of the reading or writing”
“My soccer coach at the time took it upon himself to teach me how to read and write and my math at the time was behind because their school system's more advanced, and I just caught up.”
Part of that learning was also focused on developing his soccer skills.
Some people's perceptions of Cuba may have been skewed by things they have seen in the media, but Froese said it's more advanced in a number of areas than you may think and youth soccer coaching is one of them.
“Overall, when I was younger, they took it a bit more serious,” Froese explained. "Cubans, in comparison to Canadians, maybe you'd think Canada is better but [in some things] Cuba beats Canada. So it just depends. I just think overall it's a third world country and sometimes it just helps take your head off things playing a sport. It's just a little bit of a different mentality in a sense.”
Froese returned to Canada full-time when he entered the Whitecaps FC Residency program in 2012.
Faced with a number of options, Vancouver won out partly because of the proximity to his parents in Winnipeg, but partly because “it was a better pathway to be part of a professional team.”
He hasn't looked back since, going on to represent Canada at the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2013 and signing his first pro deal last year.
Froese, along with his fellow Residency alumni Marco Bustos, has been part of the ‘Caps MLS setup and training from long before he signed a full contract. With well over a year of first team training now under his belt, Froese's game has continued to come along at leaps and bounds.
“It really changes your way of thinking,” Froese said of training with the MLS squad. “Results here matter. Your touches are important … here, senior players are on you and saying you need to do this better and you need to do that. You grow more obviously. Everybody around you is trying to make you better and you just want to be a part of it and help. It makes you better and it makes you thrive if you take it on board.”
Grabbing his first pro goal may have been a weight off Froese's shoulders, but now that he's got it Robinson wants to see the 19-year-old use it to spur him on to even higher levels.
“I was delighted for Kianz because he can tick that one off his list now but I want him to kick on,” Robinson said this week. “I don't want him to be comfortable now that he's scored one goal. He's got to try and push the starting players for more starts in the team now, which I firmly believe he can.”
For Froese, that first MLS goal is just the very first step in a long journey to him becoming a better player. He's taking nothing for granted and won't be taking his foot off the gas any time soon.
“There so many ways that I can improve,” Froese feels. “My touch, my everything essentially. I'm young, I'm 19, so my focus, my concentration. Just day to day I need to continue to work hard and put in a shift and improve overall in general and become a better player.”
“I'm nowhere near a finished product,” he continued. “Just because I've scored a goal, doesn't necessarily things should happen for me. I just need to continue to put my head down and hopefully things fall into place.”
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