BRIAN SCIARETTA - Wednesday, May 15, 2013
After a successful trial last year with Bayer Leverkusen, American teenager Kainoa Bailey will now head to Germany on a fulltime basis after signing a professional contract with the club.
Bailey, 17, initially came into contact with Leverkusen last fall through his coaches staff which included former US national team players Desmond Armstrong and Brent Goulet.
The journey to Leverkusen began in 2012 when Bailey had an extended trial in Brazil with Cruzeiro's U17 team which lasted until April that year. In the end, Bailey did not make Cruzeiro's team but when he returned he was a vastly improved player.
"Unfortunately, I was not able to make the 25 man squad [at Cruzeiro], but I gave it all I had and at least I left a good impression," Bailey told YA. "That experience in Brazil taught me a few lessons. First and foremost I was too comfortable in US and not consistently bringing a high level to training and games. I realized that I was not that good as a player and with twice a day trainings, school work and learning a different language that I had to step up."
After the Cruzeiro trial, Bailey returned home to play PDL in Nashville under Desmond and Goulet who noticed significant improvement from his time in Brazil. Goulet soon arranged for trials for Bailey in Germany with multiple clubs.
As it turned out, his week-long trial with Leverkusen's reserve team in September 2012 was his only trial. Leverkusen's staff informed Bailey and his father that they actually called Cruzeiro and received a very favorable report from the Brazilian club. During his trial, Bailey was given the chance to train with the first team for a practice and following that session, Leverkusen offered Bailey a contract for the club's U-23 team.
After recovering from an injury, he is now in Germany training with the club where he is one of the youngest players on the reserve team.
"My four year contract officially starts on my 18th birthday in August," Bailey told YA. "I was supposed to have started training in Germany in Feb 2013 but, I had a nagging tendonitis that required months of rests to recover fully. I have now arrived in Germany and training diligently to return to full stamina and sharpness."
Before playing abroad, Bailey most recently developed the MLS academy level first with DC United and then with Real Salt Lake.
"[Desmond Armstrong] eventually took me to DC United and I became a fulltime player on the U-16 93 team," Bailey recalled. "This was a huge step for me. Unfortunately, I had to leave DC United before the second season because I had no place to continue living in DC. So I was offered a residential spot by Real Salt Lake Arizona and I went there for a year. RSL was a learning experience even though I didn't do as well there. I realized I had become too comfortable with myself and I had to step up and challenge myself."
As he decided that he needed more challenges, Bailey set his goal on moving to Europe to pursue his goal of playing professionally. It was not an easy decision to make at such an early age since Bailey's parents stressed education.
In addition to training, Bailey still is an active student where he is aiming to graduate high school in 2013 and is continuing to study both German and Portuguese. Despite taking the SAT test in January, college soccer was simply not the path he wanted to take with his life at this moment.
"The decision to come to Europe or overseas has been part of a long-term plan," Bailey said. "I never wanted to go to college to play soccer, but my dad allowed me to enter this path after he received multiple recommendations from various foreign and domestic coaches that I had the tools to become a pro. My parents have stressed the importance of education and constantly tell me that education is a lifetime skill and I will need it in the second career of my life."
On the international front, Bailey is a dual national with Jamaica and the United States but hopes to represent the U.S internationally. As a player born in 1995, he is eligible for both the 2015 U-20 World Cup team and the 2016 Olympic team.
Bailey is yet to play for a youth national team but stresses that his priority is strictly with Leverkusen at the moment since that is where he will develop as a player. As a result, he is not as focused on the international game.
"Hopefully I will be playing for a big club on the world stage one day," Bailey said. "When I reach that goal then I want to play for the national team in the World Cup. Playing for the youth national teams would be an honor and fun, but I am not worried whether I am selected because inclusion or not will have no bearing on my rise as a world class player. Being successful on a big pro team and caps for the men national team are what will define a successful career."
Bailey is not the only young American-born teenager electing to begin his professional career abroad. Ben Spencer recently signed with Molde, Junior Flores is with Borussian Dortmund, Russel Canouse joined Hoffenheim last year, and Paul Ariola recently headed south to play for Club Tijuana.
It is a difficult path to move abroad at an early to begin a career and the journey to first team soccer is a challenging one, but Bailey remains both confident and optimistic that this was the right move for him.
"I think this is the best move for me to maximize my potential," Bailey concluded. "I know it's risky but I been taking risk all along so why stop now?"