U.S. Under-17 midfielder Quavas Kirk is always smiling. No, really, ALL the time. One of the top players on the team, Kirk was ready to lead the U-17s into the qualifying tournament last April until a broken foot sidelined him from making the trip to Costa Rica. Was he depressed? Yes. Sad? Yes. Disappointed? Yes. Frowning? No. Despite his own misfortune, Kirk knew he needed to stay positive in the hopes it would rub off on his teammates who were now saddled with the job of qualifying without his services. It worked and now, due to the help of his teammates, he is going to his first World Championship. Yep, you guessed it, he’s grinning from ear to ear.
On a hot streak. In the zone. On fire. En fuego.
Call it what you want, Quavas Kirk was all of the above during the early part of this year. The lanky U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team midfielder with the gazelle-like pace was putting on a clinic every time he stepped on the field. The Los Angles Galaxy had just drafted him and through the first 18 games of 2005 with the U-17s, Kirk compiled 14 goals and five assists. He had as many goals as starts, a statistic helped by the fact he registered three multi-goal games, which included one hat trick and two two-goal performances.
If there ever was a good time to peak, the first third of the year was the time. The U-17s were two weeks from kicking off the CONCACAF Qualifying Tournament in Costa Rica and playing their final tune-up match, an international against Haiti on April 3 in Hialeah, Fla. The team’s first international match of the year, Kirk had the chance to prove his impressive scoring rate wasn’t a fluke and that he could continue it on the world stage.
Done and done. A “no-he-didn’t” header and another finish into the upper right corner in the 82nd minute to finish off Haiti 4-0, solidified that the Aurora, Ill., product wasn’t just “in the zone,” “on fire” or “en fuego.” Rather, he was just reaffirming the reason he was one of the most highly touted players brought into U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program in the fall of 2003: he’s just darn good.
With just two minutes left against Haiti, everything was set for the U.S. to cruise into Costa Rica, win three games and continue the streak as the only country to qualify for every World Championship at this age level. And then, “CRACK!”
“I don’t really know how it happened,” said Kirk, shaking his head as if he’s still can’t believe he was injured for the past four months. “I think I just turned (with the ball) and when I turned the guy clipped me on the back of my heel, crunching down on it like an accordion. I heard the crack. It wasn’t pleasant.”
The cracking noise was Kirk’s fifth metatarsal on his left foot breaking, which instantly put the guy everyone in Residency looked up to in a cast and crutches, and immediately put questions into his teammates’ minds. Kirk was steadfast in his belief his injury wouldn’t affect what they had been working towards for two years. He went to practice everyday, even if it took him twice as long to get there on his crutches, and continued to lead from the sidelines.
“(Getting injured) was definitely devastating,” said Kirk. “It’s something you don’t want to go through, but I tried to take it the right way. I tried to make it so my injury wasn’t a burden. I didn’t sit around and mope, and was always happy about everything. I talked to players individually and tried to get guys relaxed so they weren’t so tense when they went out there.”
“Even without me, I knew we were going to take a good team to qualifying. It didn’t worry me at all. I knew we were going to qualify.”
He was right. The U.S. won Group A with a dramatic 2-1 victory against host Costa Rica in their third and final match and booked their spot in the 2005 FIFA U-17 World Championship, which kicks off on September 16 in Peru.
“It was just relief because it just felt like that game went on for hours,” said Kirk, who followed the match on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker in Bradenton with the younger Residency players. “We were all huddled around this projector screen, waiting silently for the next play and then the next play. It was so stressful. When they finally blew the final whistle we just went crazy. Everybody just started jumping around.”
Kirk acknowledges that his teammates gave him the chance to play in his first World Championship and he’s looking to pay them back by returning to the form he had in the beginning of the year.
“Before the injury, I guess something just clicked,” said Kirk. “All the stress and everything from the draft all just stopped after I was chosen by L.A., and I was able to concentrate more on playing. I had more fun playing compared to before when I’d get a lot more frustrated.”
Kirk believes the stress from rehabbing is also gone as he’s almost back to 100 percent, even playing 90 minutes (he was expected to only be able to go 25 at most) in his first game back against Uruguay during the U-17s trip to Brazil in mid-July.
“I did a lot of different things in my rehab to make sure I’d get back before the World Championship,” said Kirk. “I’m not exactly back to where I was before the injury, but I think I’ll get there before we leave. I’ll definitely be putting the ball in the back of the net in Peru.”