After emerging at Wolfsburg, Paredes hopes to make international breakthrough this summer
March 30, 2023
WHENEVER YOUNG AMERICAN players make the move abroad, there is typically always a period of adjustment, both on the field and off the field. For some players, the adjustment is easy while others never are able to overcome the cultural differences or the new on-field demands.
For Kevin Paredes, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. In January 2022, he made the move from DC United to Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga. His first six months in Germany were tough. In the midst of trying to fit into one of Europe’s top five leagues, he was also forced into learning basic life skills.
“I spent 18 years of my life living with my parents at home,” Paredes told ASN. “Anything I needed, I could just go to the next door and just say: hey, mom, I need help. When you move to this new environment where you're all by yourself and you don't know how to cook and you don't know how to do your laundry that well, it's is definitely tough. I left my family behind. Even though they're always with me, I left my family behind. When I wasn't getting as much time as I wanted to play, I couldn't go to the next room and put my shoulder around my mom or something like that.”
Flash forward to March 2023, Paredes is both a different player and person. On the field he is a regular for Wolfsburg having made 16 Bundesliga appearances where he has typically been the team’s first offensive substitute – including scoring his first Bundesliga goal on January 28.
19-year-old Wolfsburg and USMNT defender Kevin Paredes scores his first Bundesliga goal! ???? pic.twitter.com/RwdxjMWgdJ— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) January 28, 2023
Off the field, he is a mentor and a friend to several young American players who have also recently made the jump abroad and who are also going through the same struggles he faced in 2022. The entire experience has made him more mature.
“I'm grateful to have had that experience because it toughened me mentally and it started helping me become a more independent young man,” Paredes added about his initial struggles in Germany. “Throughout all those experience the first six months, I'm glad that I got to experience all of that because it is helping me strive this season, because I know how to stay mentally stronger in certain points and physically strong in certain points in my journey so far.”
There are currently nine weeks remaining in the Bundesliga season and Wolfsburg sits on the cusp of qualifying for a European competition next season. The top six teams qualify, and Wolfsburg are in seventh place – two points behind sixth place Eintracht Frankfurt for a spot in the UEFA Conference League.
In addition to simply maturing, another reason Paredes is also thriving at Wolfsburg this season is due to head coach Niko Kovac who was hired last summer following the dismissal of former head coach Florian Kohfeldt. Under the former Croatian international, Padres has found a manager who believes in him and has given him a role with a lot of freedom on the wing – something that is important to Paredes.
“When my second season came with a new coach, during the preseason I took strides," Paredes said. "The coaches and the players have full confidence in me to either start a game at this point, or to come in at any time in the game and do my job. Now they're starting to allow me to be the player that everyone knows I am - a creative player to go up and down, create for the team. When you have that freedom at a top club like Wolfsburg, it just gives you more confidence to go out there every game and just continue to play freely.”
With his success at Wolfsburg, Paredes is opening doors internationally with the United States as well. This summer there could be a number of opportunities for the Virginia native but everything is still up in the air.
Paredes, 19, is considered one of the top teenage American players and he recently played with the U.S. U-20 camp during the March window. That team is preparing for the U-20 World Cup which is scheduled to open May 20th.
The issue for Paredes, however, is that the Bundesliga season is scheduled to run through May 28th and Wolfsburg would have to voluntarily allow Paredes to miss either one or two of their final games of the season for him to take part in the U-20 World Cup.
“It would mean a lot,” Paredes said about the U-20 World Cup. “My focus is always to play in the World Cup. To play for the U.S in a World Cup is something that I dreamed of forever. It's not going to be up to me in the end. It's going to be something that we just have to see. But either way, I'm going to be supporting the group. If I'm there or not, I'm going to be supporting the group and hoping the U.S. is going to go all the way.”
U.S. U-20 head coach Mikey Varas meanwhile is hoping that Paredes will be released by Wolfsburg but he admits he is still not sure if it will happen.
"For the World Cup, it's still an ongoing discussion with all clubs," Varas said. "I think in Europe, all of them have a philosophical structure but they all have different philosophical structures. Some clubs are going to release no matter what, because they prioritize the players value going up over anything else. And some clubs prioritize the fact that they need to qualify for Europe or they need to finish a certain place in the table. All of them do, obviously, but where they prioritize that will tell the final story of who we get from Europe."
But if Paredes isn’t released by Wolfsburg for the U.S. U-20 team, he could feature for the full national team this summer in either the Nations League or the Gold Cup. Such a release would be mandatory. U.S. interim head coach Anthony Hudson said Paredes was on the cusp of being called into the full national team this past window but was left off in favor of more experienced players. But he then added Paredes could feature this summer.
“We've been watching him closely,” Hudson said of Paredes. “If he keeps doing what he's doing, he's going to get an opportunity. He's doing really, really well.”
“He's a really interesting player,” Hudson added. “We value him highly. He's right on the edge. And again, he's one where I can see with the amount of programing we have coming up and how we're going to have to balance the squad, he'll get an opportunity for sure.”
Aside from visiting family in Virginia and in the Dominican Republic and also attending a DC United game, Paredes doesn’t yet know his summer plans. He is hoping, however, the U-20 World Cup opportunity presents itself.
The most recent U-20 camp in Spain saw the U.S. post losses to France and England before a scoreless draw finale against Serbia. Paredes played left wing against France and then shifted to right wing against England where he scored a scissor-kick goal in a 4-2 loss.
???????????? pic.twitter.com/5gjOIIE6nq— U.S. Soccer YNT (@USYNT) March 26, 2023
Despite the results, Paredes thought the team played well and with better finishing, the team should be able to compete well at the U-20 World Cup.
“What I've seen so far from all the guys in the group, they're very talented, hardworking guys,” Paredes explained. “And what Mikey brings to the table is bringing all of us together with a really good culture - a really good brotherhood.”
“I was really happy when Mikey called me to put me in this group right before the final preparation before the actual World Cup,” he continued. “The games weren't actually what the final scores say… We just didn't put our chances away. When you play top teams like this, and we do that, they win. But I'm not worried about those results for the World Cup because of what we displayed. Our football is exciting football and if we just connect a few pieces, I think we can really, really surprise everyone.”