Age at MLS Cup: 27
Hometown: Leawood, KS
Signed as a 17-year-old homegrown player by Sporting Kansas City for the 2010 season, Kempin has spent much of his career backing up star goalkeepers such as Jimmy Nielsen, Tim Melia, Zack Steffen, and now Eloy Room. It’s the curse of the position. There are no multi-goalkeeper tactical formations, or late game subs for a goalkeeper who has run nine miles, or anything like that. With goalkeeper, it’s one guy at a time, and if that guy plays well and is durable, it’s hard for anyone else to see the field. Kempin has taken a place behind so many award-winning goalkeepers. Three of those guys I mentioned have won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, whereas Room was a finalist in 2020 while winning MLS Save of the Year. As Josh will explain, that’s something much more than bad luck. Just not in the way your mind will likely choose to interpret the previous sentence.
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“Kempin is just one of those guys I connected with. Pretty quicky, I noticed we had some common interests. He started his real estate investments in rental properties a long time ago, so I would pick his brain a little bit about real estate in Kansas City and here in Columbus. So we’d talk about that and stocks and investments and things like that. He’s a guy I connected with in terms of a growth mentality. I was so impressed with how he is always trying to grow his knowledge of things outside of the sport. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in soccer and it takes over our world and all we’re thinking about is how we’re doing. A thing I appreciate about Jon is that he is always looking to grow as a person, not only as a soccer player, but as an adult. He’s just got a wealth of knowledge about a lot of different things. He’s an extremely intelligent guy.
“On the field, I’ve talked about how there are many characteristics of every guy when I think about how to construct a championship team. You have to have so many guys with the right mindset and the right characteristics. Jon is another guy who shows up every day and is constantly bringing it. He wants to show the best of himself every day. That’s such an important quality to have. When he got loaned to San Diego, I kept track of him. I’d see his stats and it was like he was the best goalie in the USL. (NOTE: In ten starts, Kempin allowed only five goals and posted five shutouts.) As a player, you can go into that experience like it is a downgrade to the league below, or you can go down there and absolutely stand out and force your way back up. That’s exactly what he did and that doesn’t happen by accident. That stuff happens because you’re prepared and you go into it with the right mentality.
“Another thing that doesn’t happen by accident is that he’s been in the league for what’s going to be his 12th year now. I think they signed him when he was six years old, so maybe it’s going to be his 22nd year in the league. But no, he was 17 years old then they signed him. To sign as a goalie at that age, you have to be very mature and have the right mentality. And you have to have the right mentor. This is a pretty wild stat…he has played behind three different guys who have won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. When you think about it, that’s not something that should be taken lightly, because in order for that person to reach that level, they’ve got to be pushed. They’ve got to have someone behind them who cares about them and isn’t a jerk that is only worried about himself and his own personal gain. He is that type of caring person, and I’ve seen it with Zack Steffen, and now with Eloy. Anyone who comes in, Jon’s constantly supporting everyone else.
“At the same time, you can tell he is coming in every day wanting that number one spot. He’s so intense in every drill that he does. He hates to lose. He’s just another one of those guys, as are all of our goalies. Every day at training you’ll be doing some drill or a 5v5 or 6v6 and there is some goalie that you’re just like, ‘Ah, we really need to play well today.’ With our team, the level was so high that I remember thinking early on that we have four goalies where there’s no dropoff in play there. They are constantly raising the level.
“Jon has such a knowledge of the game. I’m a student of the game, but the outfield game. I always joke with the guys where I only call the goalies ‘gloves.’ So whenever at training, and the goalies step in, I’m like, ‘Here come the gloves.’ To me, it’s almost like they’re playing a completely different sport. Like when I watch their training, it’s completely different than we are. So whenever I have a question about a goal kick or building out of the back or whatever, I always ask Jon because he has so much knowledge and he’s been doing this professionally since he was 17. He’s been around the league and seen so many different situations. And all those awards that has teammates have won, he was in the picture for those. In some ways it could be considered crappy luck to be behind guys that are that good, but at the same time, I saw it with Zack where he allowed him to grow and was a huge factor in that growth. That’s an elite leadership quality. He might not be the lead dog, but behind the scenes, he does have that leadership quality about him.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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