Q&A: Getting to know Kenne Kessler

We sat down with Ladies First Team player Kenne Kessler to chat about her journey from Texas to Villarreal.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 22, I am originally from a small city outside of Dallas, Texas called Highland Village. It’s where I grew up and lived my whole life.

Have you always played soccer?

Well yes and no. Growing up I played ice hockey as well.

In Texas isn’t it a bit hot for ice hockey?

Yeah, but it’s part of the reason I ended up choosing soccer because, growing up, I played ice hockey together with my brother because my mom didn’t want to go for two teams. He’s two years older and whenever the boys turned 14 they said that I was going to get hurt playing, and they were like, “you need to go find a girls’ team.” And there weren’t any girls’ teams, so I decided to quit hockey.

We’re glad you chose soccer because that’s what has brought you here. You obviously played soccer growing up, tell us about your previous playing experience at college.

I grew up playing left-back for my select team. I went to college and then I got to college and my coach was like, “maybe we should try a new position, you’re not the fastest player.” So I was like, that’s fine, and so I started playing attacking centre-mid and centre-forward. I went to the University of Hardin-Simmons and I became the starter my freshman year and played for four years. I was an attacking player for the first time and through that I set the school record for scoring. It was a really good transition; the coach made a really good choice.

Yeah, it was a really good choice. Those stats are really impressive and, yeah, it sounds like you’re out and out a forward now.


Before we get into you being here in Spain and playing for the ladies first team, tell us about when you were playing at college and how the chance came about for you to come here after college, because it’s not very common.

No it’s not, so Hardin-Simmons, at University you can only play four years and in December, we lost in the Elite A on penalties and I was really heart-broken. I was like ‘I’m not ready to be done with soccer, I need to find a way to keep playing.’ But, in the United States there’s not a lot of options after graduation, just like high-level soccer. So my WPSL, which is like a summer team to stay fit in the United States-it’s like a summer team that just plays in June and July-the coach actually had been making trips to Spain for three years now, and he’s been taking boys. This year, he was taking girls. So, he brought the team to Valencia and I was like, ‘you know what, I’m just going to go and put my name out there.’ I didn’t think anything was going to come of it. So, we played against Levante B team in the first game, and we lost 3–2, but I scored twogoals. I was like, ‘okay, maybe they’ll be interested,’ but I didn’t hear anything from them, so I was really sad. The next game we played Villarreal and we won 3–2 and I scored two more goals. I was really excited I was like, ‘okay, this is it.’ After the game my coach had said that the coach had asked if I wanted to come train with them the next day, so that was really exciting. My U.S. team actually had a game that day, so I decided to skip the game and go to the training, which was a really good choice. But, it was very overwhelming at training. It was really upsetting because I did not think that I played well at all, and I was just really overwhelmed because they would like explain the drills and everyone would run, and I would just be standing there.

It is a difficult transition, but I just want to say that it was Levante’s loss in that game because we’re so happy to have you play for Villarreal. You’ve shown American girls that you don’t have to stop playing if you don’t want to. Who did you play for in the WPSL?

For the Spurs, for Texas first.

How was that experience?

It was awesome, really great first of all to meet other people from other colleges and play different styles, learn other soccer, and also a good way to get fit in the soccer, running into the pre-season because running on your own is not fun.

So then when you finished college and you found out that there was a chance to come here, and when you finally found out that you’d be coming out to Villarreal, how did you feel about that?

Kenne: So I’m actually still in college, when they asked me to come here it was a panic because I still had a full semester left of University. We called the school and were like this is the situation. I had three classes left, one of them was Spanish actually, the other two were capstone research classes. I’m a Biology major. So, the teachers were like, “okay yes, we’ll move it all online, we’ll get it done.” So, in February, I decided to pack up all my stuff, take my classes online, and come to Spain.

Tell us about how the transition has been for you because coming to Spain must be very different, first of all, but then the playing starts, soccer must be so different as well.

Yeah, everything has been very different. Especially, because I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare to come here. Within two weeks I was here, so I missed my family more than I thought I would. I had never been gone for a long period of time, and the fact that I can’t really communicate with a lot of people here is really hard because sometimes you just want to talk to someone.

Obviously the language is going to take some time.

And Spain is crazy. I’ve taken three years of Spanish for my university, but we also learned Mexican Spanish, which is very different.

They’re different worlds aren’t they.

That was shocking to me too, how different the Spanish’s were and how different they sounded. I thought I knew Spanish but then I came here, and they started talking and I was like, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying.’

So tell us about some of the main cultural differences between Vila-real and your town in Texas, I mean they’re probably very different places.

The food at first was weird because they eat so late at night, which is just so crazy to me. I’ve been taught my whole life ‘don’t eat dinner after 8pm, it’s really bad for you,’ but here it’s like 11:30 and it’s time to eat. In the United States if you eat at 8, people are like, ‘why are you eating so close to bed time.’ But here it’s like, it’s almost tomorrow, might as well eat some dinner now.

The food they eat is also different because Texas isn’t really close to any water, so you don’t have a lot of seafood options, so I’m not a big seafood fan. My roommates, they eat like rabbit or like eels and I’m like, ‘oh.’ I try to be really open minded because I’m a really picky eater, but the big thing my mom said was, “when you go there you need to be open minded, and try new things,” and then I’m like looking at their plate and I’m like, ‘that’s an eel.’

It’s good that you have come with an open mind because it is very different here. So we’ve talked about how there are so many differences in the lifestyle and the culture but talk about being on the soccer field. How is it been different playing here?

The style of soccer here is just completely different. When I first came into the practices, I really didn’t fit in because the technical ability of the girls here is just insane compared to what we learned in Texas. They would be bringing balls from forty yards away, beating three people on the first touch and I was just like, ‘oh my gosh, I do not fit in here.’ In Texas, we’re just raised to be general athletes, physical, fast, strong, and here it’s more like how you can move the ball and stuff. So, it was just very shocking at practice, I felt really overwhelmed watching them because the technical ability was just so beyond mine. But, I think me bringing physicality into the games has helped because it kind of shocks the other teams like “oh, we did not expect this girl.” So it’s been a very different experience, especially also how possession-oriented soccer is here, and in the United States we’re known for the kick and run soccer- how far you can kick it and be the fastest person to get it.

It’s so direct.

Yeah very direct, and I was talking with the coaches I trained the little boys with, the little six-year-olds, and just watching the youth program, how much time they spend on catching and moving the ball. It’s a completely different culture in soccer here than in the United States.

Tell us about your first match, when you made your debut for the ladies’ team and how was that? Who was it against and what was the score and all that stuff?

The first match that I got to play was against Elche. They had been practicing me as an outside-mid, which I had never played. Going into the game I was really nervous, and then they had just come off of a 5–0 loss, so all of the girls were like, “we need to win this.” And then we had a lot of injuries and so I was really really nervous going into it. And I went down 1–0 in like the first fifteen minutes and it was not going well for me. I didn’t know what I was doing, the coaches were yelling in Spanish and I didn’t know what was going on, I couldn’t communicate with them right back, which I was wanting to do. And at halftime, my team-mate Laura asked me, “do you feel comfortable with what you’re doing, and I was like, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.’ So she talked to the coaches and they were like, “okay let’s switch her to forward.” So, the second half I played forward, and it was a lot better.

It was a lot more comfortable. I was horrible, I did not think I was going to be going back to outside-mid, I was not good, it was terrible. Cristina (Díaz) came in during the 70th minute and she scored a goal right away, and then we were tied 1–1, and then in extra time she scored another goal to win it. It was really exciting because we were losing the whole game and then she came in and scored two goals and won it.

Let’s talk about that Levante game too, where the ladies won 3–1. It was a huge win.

Going into it, the coaches just kept telling me how big of a game it was. There wasn’t much communication because the head coach doesn’t really speak much English, so she just kept commenting on how important of a game it was, I don’t really know why, but going into it, I was really nervous. We got a corner really early in the game and María Colonques scored and I was just like, ‘oh my gosh, everyone is so excited.’ It was really exciting to be a part of something that big and important. And then later on, I found out after the game, it secured our spot in the promotion.

The communication barrier is difficult. You obviously contributed to that promotion too. Tell us about your first goal, which was in that Levante game.

Yes, in the game previously when we played, we were winning 6–0 and I had seven or eight chances to score, but I was just in my own head. I kept messing up and so I was like, ‘I really need to score.’ So going into the game I was like, ‘I really want to score in this game.’ In the second half I still had beat some players and I just made a run for the back post because she drew them off, I called for it, and I kind of collided into the player as I shot and the ball like trickled, as slow as it could.

I was just watching it like, ‘please go in.’ The girls were so nice, whenever I scored they celebrated so much, and it was really nice to just feel supported by them and stuff. It was really cool.

Tell us how all the training sessions have been going. How is the everyday life here training with the team?

The training has been really cool, it’s been really cool to just see the different way they do it because, at my University, we train weights and stuff at a completely separate time. We do that at 6:00 in the morning, and then we go to class during the day, and then at like 4pm we would train on the field. Here they do it all at night because people always have jobs. Then you start with going to the gym; the stuff in the gym is a completely different focus. In the United States we’re kind of raised to be physical athletes so we do a lot more weight lifting and stuff, but here it’s more core and movements and stuff. And then on the field it’s been interesting because the girls try and explain the drills to me, and I’m not very good at speaking much, so that’s always fun. But, just seeing the different drills and the way practice is run, and their tactics behind everything, it’s been a really cool learning experience.

What advice would you give to other female players from the U.S. that are perhaps thinking about playing overseas?

I think I would just say, there is a lot of opportunity out there and you got to go put yourself out there because they’re not going to come to the U.S. and see you. So, you have to find your own way out there. And then just don’t be nervous because your style doesn’t fit theirs, they just might be looking for something to change their game. I know for me I was really worried about coming into the practice and not fitting the style, but it wasn’t a problem at all because they wanted me for who I was. I think I would just say come be yourself and play your game, there’s a lot of opportunity out there if you look hard enough.



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