NEW YORK – Kosuke Kimura, the first Japan-born player in America’s Major League Soccer, will begin his seventh pro season on Sunday as the newest member of a star-studded New York Red Bulls team seeking its first MLS Cup championship.
The 28-year-old defender, who was drafted in 2007 by the Colorado Rapids and helped the team win a championship in 2010, joined the Red Bulls last December after five months with the Portland Timbers.
“When I heard about this chance, I instantly decided to put in a couple years here, maybe more, to win the league (championship) again,” Kimura told Kyodo News at a media event ahead of his Red Bulls debut. “There’s a really good fan base here and the organization itself really, really wants to win. They have to get the cup.”
Kimura said that he had also considered a move from Portland to the J. League. “Maybe a few years from now I’ll be playing in Japan, you never know,” he said. “But I started playing here and I owe so much to this league. I think I can do better and help this league to grow more. That’s why I decided (to stay).”
The Kobe native played on Kawasaki Frontale’s reserve team while in high school, but a foot injury at age 17 threatened his pro prospects. After months of recovery, he pursued Division I soccer in the United States and eventually landed a scholarship at Western Illinois University.
To earn his eligibility, Kimura needed vast and immediate improvement in his English skills. He took intensive language courses, gradually reaching his current English fluency as he met academic requirements and immersed himself in American life.
In six seasons of Major League Soccer, mostly with the Colorado Rapids, Kimura has appeared in 134 matches as a defender, managing five goals and nine assists.
His new teammates on the Red Bulls include veteran international stars Thierry Henry of France, Australia’s Tim Cahill, and Juninho Pernambucano of Brazil.
“This league is getting bigger and better every year,” Kimura said. “MLS is getting more exposure and more people are taking it seriously. I’m hoping they can show the games in Japan sometime soon.”
“In any case, I have to show them the game that I play here. If I play well, eventually I can help the Japanese and other Asian players to try to come here over the next few years. I have to be responsible to set a good example for them.”
“That gives me a lot of pressure, but at the same time it’s a challenge for me and I like the challenge.”