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The Dirty South Soccer Interview: Kevan George

The Jacksonville Armada midfielder & Decatur High School grad represents Trinidad & Tobago alongside Kenwyne Jones

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Orlando City SC at Jacksonville Armada Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Kevan George moved to the Decatur area from his native Trinidad and Tobago at a young age. He started playing for Concorde Fire and made the Georgia ODP team quickly. His strong youth career led him to the University of Central Florida where he was a multiple time All-Conference selection.

George was drafted by the Columbus Crew in the second round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft and earned his first call-up to the Trinidad and Tobago national team in 2013 for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

After leaving the Crew, George settled in with the NASL’s Jacksonville Armada and recently spent time with his national team during World Cup and Caribbean Cup qualifiers, playing alongside Atlanta United’s Kenwyne Jones.

(ed. note- thanks to Ryan Lobato of the Jacksonville Armada for using the conference call function on his cell phone to make the conversation happen before a long flight to Edmonton for the squad and thanks to Kevan for some really insightful stuff)

Jon Nelson: Very few people around the world get the opportunity to represent their country- as you currently do with Trinidad and Tobago. I know you just went through another spell with the squad, but what was it like to get “The Call” and have them ask you to wear your country’s colors?

Kevan George: I was so nervous, but at the same time, I was like ‘About time!’ When I was a little kid, before I left Trinidad and Tobago, my goal was to make the National Team at the senior level and also go to a World Cup with them and play major tournaments. I know that, being back at home, we didn’t have enough resources to achieve that. To move to Atlanta and America in general afforded me those opportunities. I remember when I got that first call… I remember the day… I sat in my room and I almost cried. I said to myself that this was actually happening to me.

It happened so quickly, before the 2013 Gold Cup, I was on my way back on a trip with Columbus Crew. They called me at the airport and I had to leave the same night! I had to get down to Atlanta, actually, to play against Mexico. I didn’t get to play in the game, but that was my first experience with the National Team. I still have the feelings like then playing for the team now, but obviously, the first call was the most special one.

JN: Now that you’re a veteran of the side, there are other players on the National Team like Kenwyne Jones that make a point to say publicly how important it is and should be to play for your National Team. How do guys like you make a point to tell the younger players how important it is and how much it matters- and should matter?

KG: For me, I’m not a big talker. I’m a guy that observes a lot and I try to lead by example. I try to let the guys know that soccer is soccer- at the end of the day, whether it’s for a national team or a club team, you still have to go out and play. But, when it’s your national team, you have to stop and make sure that you have to give 180-percent. Like you said, not everyone gets to play for their country- at ANY level throughout their careers.

I try to make sure that the younger guys cherish this moment because, today or tomorrow, there could be a coaching change and it could be gone from you. Not to say that you’re a bad player, but coaches have their preferences. Enjoy the moment while it’s there and they’ve been receptive to it.

JN: So, what was this last tour like for you out on the pitch?

KG: We played the Caribbean Cup games. We won our first one against the Dominican Republic, but we lost our second one against Martinique. On that day, I don’t think we were ready for the match. I don’t know. We might have underestimated them and it cost us, because I think we’re a much better team. But that day, they had the better of us and that happens in football.

It was a bittersweet camp, obviously, because of the results. While it was fun to be around the guys, though, the obvious thing is that you want to win. And when you don’t win, regardless of who’s around you, you’re not happy. I’m speaking for myself and my teammates. When we win, anything can happen and we’re all smiles. But when we lose, because we expect so much of each other, it’s not the best place to be in our camp because we’re all so competitive.

JN: So from a national side perspective, to get to where you want to get to, what do you think you have to do as a group to get there?

KG: I think we have to get back to the basics and maybe go back to two years ago when we started to turn over a new leaf. We need to be hungry again. We need to do the little things right- the basics- and we got away from that. We need to be a team like Martinique. We need to beat the smaller islands. We’ve played against bigger nations like Mexico and the U.S. and we competed with them. I think we might have taken it for granted. But losing the game against Martinique and, earlier in the year against Haiti, it was a wake-up call that we’re not there yet.

We all realize it and we just need to go back to the basics, because it could easily slip through our fingers and we could be back to square one again.

JN: Now, to the Atlanta stuff… how did you end up in the suburbs?

KG: Back in 2002, we ended up in Decatur. The closest two schools in our zip code were Renfroe Middle and Decatur High. My parents didn’t have a car at the time, so it wasn’t like we could hop in a car and go to another district. Decatur was our first choice and we loved the area and the city. It was a real family atmosphere there.

JN: What is your first Georgia-based soccer memory from your time in Decatur?

KG: I didn’t even know if Georgia had soccer because, coming from where I came from, you would always see kids on the street corners playing. And when I got to Atlanta and Decatur, I didn’t see anyone playing soccer outside at all. I was questioning my parents going, ‘Why did you guys bring me here and bring me to this city?’ True story! So, I didn’t even know if Atlanta was a soccer city. I was a little bit nervous and a little bit disappointed. But obviously, I learned that Atlanta was a huge soccer city.

I would play games with guys who were from Mexico and moved here. And we would play in the area where the Silverbacks played, too. Every little corner would have people from the Caribbean out in Stone Mountain. So, yeah, my initial reactions were that Atlanta wasn’t a soccer city. But, over time, I was proven wrong about that.

JN: Does it surprise you at times how much the city has grown and evolved as a soccer city?

KG: Not really, because when I was younger I was playing for Concorde Fire. And I saw that there was a buzz in the air and there were a lot of young, talented players at that time. So, I knew it was going to take off. It was always my feeling and some of my teammates’ feelings that it could eventually take off. Now, as I look from the outside in, I see a lot of people talking about Atlanta and MLS and how they have great support and a lot of people are buying season tickets.

People would be surprised, but I would tell them, ‘Atlanta has always been like that’. Always having a strong fan base, thousands of kids playing club soccer, and this isn’t something new. When I was playing, we had a lot of talented kids playing that went on to play in college and some made it on to the pro level. But I am actually not surprised at all. For me, it’s about time that Atlanta gets recognized as a ‘soccer city’ in America.

JN: So then, here’s my “King For A Day” question that I like to ask: You’re in charge of the world for day, how do you keep Atlanta’s momentum as a soccer city and make it grow even further along than from what you’ve seen?

KG: For me, I’ll invest in the youth…

At the end of the day, the youth are the future of the sport. When parents get involved with their children, they’ll tell more parents and more families. And when you have that kind of momentum, you’ll never fail. Look at the Premier League teams, they invest so heavily in their youth that you’re naturally inclined to get behind them. And you do that as a family. And once you do that in Atlanta, for me when you do that, Atlanta will probably be the best soccer city in America.

For me, that’s where it starts. When you invest in the youth, and have that as your foundation, the sky is the limit.

JN: Last question and it’s the Jacksonville question: It’s been a long year there with the Armada with coaching changes early on and a season that has had its ups-and-downs. What do you think you guys have to do on the whole to finish the season on the best note possible to get things moving forward in the right direction for 2017 and beyond?

KG: Ever since I got here, everyone has welcomed me with open arms- considering I just kinda landed here out of nowhere. They’ve all been so great to me here. It’s been a humbling experience. Yeah, we had a coaching change and the start of the season wasn’t that great. Things are looking up now and we have a lot of great players on the team. We just want to win as many games as possible- not just for ourselves- but we feel that we owe it to the fans.

They’ve been there for us when we were losing when we couldn’t get a point and they still showed up. That was strange to see because not a lot of places have fans show up in situations like that and they would cheer you on even if you hadn’t won in the last three or four games. We owe it to them, going into the off-season, to give them a show and give them something to see that would interest them for next year and for the future.

We also want to build ourselves up as a team. We want to be known as THE Jacksonville Armada. So, when teams hear that and they play us, they know what to expect- good football and top competition. We want to make sure teams that play us don’t just think they’re going to get three points. We want to create a culture and keep passing along the culture that’s been going on in our locker room for the past few months.

For me, once accomplishing that, going into the off-season we’ll experience some good things as a team.