VANCOUVER, BC – Masato Kudo was nothing short of a legend at his former club.
After all, the Tokyo, Japan native was Kashiwa Reysol's all-time leading goalscorer with 92 goals in 260 first-team appearances. And he had been with them since he was 10 years old, when he was one of 15 players picked out of a group of 200 to join the youth system.
It was his boyhood club – the team was “everything to him” – but it was time for a new challenge.
Enter Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
The ‘Caps came calling this past offseason and Kudo said he felt an immediate “connection.”
That’s why he decided to make the move, despite a very good offer to stay in Japan and interest from a few Dutch and German sides.
“I felt a strong message like they wanted me,” Kudo told whitecapsfc.com through translator. “And MLS is getting bigger and better so I wanted to see how I could do at a higher level.”
It’s been a little bit of an adjustment, which isn’t a big surprise considering this is his first experience living and playing outside his home country, but Kudo is starting to find his way. The 25-year-old striker made his first MLS regular season start on Saturday in a 1-0 win over Houston Dynamo and drew the penalty that led to the game’s only goal.
He also had a glorious first-half opportunity but was denied from point-blank range.
Kudo played 78 minutes in his first MLS regular season start (Bob Frid/Whitecaps FC)
“He’ll be disappointed he didn’t score the goal … but I thought his movement was very strong,” said Whitecaps FC head coach Carl Robinson. “We know that’s what he’s good at.”
Among other things.
Kudo started playing soccer, for fun, when he was three years old. His older brother started kicking a ball around and that was the beginning. Soccer runs in the family. Currently, his older brother is a youth soccer coach and his younger brother plays in university – so too did his father.
Kudo’s father was a policeman – a “strict man,” Kudo said, but someone he always looked up to.
“My parents wanted me to be a tough and brave man,” he said. “They taught me to never give up.”
And to never settle.
Kudo was comfortable in Japan. He was happy. But he wanted to test his game at a higher level. He referenced MLB star Ichiro Suzuki as an “inspiration,” someone who left Japan and achieved success in North America. Kudo played a little bit of baseball as a kid and still enjoys watching it.
“Japanese men who succeed in North America is a huge thing for me,” said Kudo.
He wants to be one of them. And he wants to be a trailblazer for Japanese talent coming to MLS.
Kudo joins Curva Collective for a chant following the match (Bob Frid/Whitecaps FC)
So far, Kudo is enjoying life in Vancouver.
The transition hasn’t necessarily been easy, considering he speaks very limited English and was sidelined for a few weeks during the preseason with a medical condition.
But it’s helped having his wife by his side.
The two of them met in Japan when they were 17. They’ve been together ever since. They like shopping, spending time with their dog, and walking around the city. Simple stuff.
Kudo's wife, who described him as "humble and hard-working," was also born in Japan. But she spent some time living in New Jersey as a kid because of her dad’s work. She also spent three months in Seattle as an exchange student.
That explains why she can speak English.
Kudo is still working on his. But he is trying. He certainly tried back in Tucson, when he sang the chorus of “Don’t Stop Believin'” at the team’s rookie night with a few of the youngsters in camp.
Suffice to say, he was the star of the show.
Now, he’s hoping to be a star on the pitch, too.
Be a part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver! 2016 Whitecaps FC Season Tickets are on sale from $39/month all in. In addition to Season Tickets, Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including Half-Season Packs, 5-Packs, a Youth Soccer Half-Season Ticket, and single match tickets. For more information, visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.