A New York Soccer Story: Alex Kapp of Minnesota United

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Alex Kapp, a young goalkeeper from Somers, N.Y., who recently signed with Minnesota United of Major League Soccer, had a confession to make.

Growing up, “to be honest I almost likeed baseball a little more” than soccer he said. “He was totally fine with it.”

The “he” in that sentence is Kapp’s father, Erhardt, a star defender at the University of Connecticut and one of the fresh, young American faces and often-forgotten faces on the roster of the New York Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League in the early 1980s. Kapp the elder joined a team that included American players like Ricky Davis, Jeff Durgan, Steve Moyers, Darryl Gee, Chico Borja, Larry Hulcer, David Brcic and Angelo DiBernardo. Not a bad core in any day.

The younger Kapp landed in the Land of 10,000 Lakes after a college career spent at Boston College, followed by an extra year of eligibility spent at Creighton University, where he began work on a Masters of Business Administration.

After being drafted by Atlanta United, Kapp knew his chances of signing with the expansion club diminished with the addition of the United States international Brad Guzan. Kapp latched on with the other expansion team, the Loons.

It is perhaps a bit strange that unlike the sons of other soccer-playing fathers (such as D.C. United’s Ian Harkes and the Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright-Phillips), there is no mention of Kapp’s pedigree. Is it a MLS prejudice against anything and anyone connected to the NASL, past or present versions? Hard to say, though it seems like a glaring omission.

That said, while speaking with the younger Kapp during a telephone interview, some of his words and manner of speaking were hauntingly familiar, with echoes of his father’s easy chuckle. When he landed with the Cosmos in 1981 (when I was covering the team for a small newspaper in Northern New Jersey), Erhardt, who was born in Romania, came off as quintessentially American, always quick to engage in soccer talk and only a bit awed by his illustrious teammates, like Franz Beckenbauer.

“The biggest, earliest memory I have is going to a MetroStars game when they honored all the Cosmos and being able to walk out on field with my brother [Christian] and my father, and meeting all the guys was always something my brother and I looked forward.

download-2“Dad was a very modest guy. It almost took until those experiences to know how good a player he was. When I hit high school and started to look at colleges, that’s kind of when I realized how big an impact he had at UConn [a first team All-America in 1981], going to reunions.”

Alex said that his father restrained himself early on, not wanting to come on too strong. Erhardt (at right in 1981) was his coach at F.C. Somers, but the father-son relationship changed when Alex joined F.C. Westchester in his mid-teens.

“For my father not to be my coach any more was kind of nice because I was able to play and ask for his opinion after games, rather than not wanting to speak with him after hearing how bad I was in a game,” Alex said. “Our relationship turned for the better at that point. It was more like I would come home and he would dissect the game. I got a better understanding and feedback from his as a parent, rather than a coach. You never get bad advice from someone of his pedigree.”

Alex traces his switch from an outfield player to a goalkeeper to his early years at F.C. Somers. A change in the age classifications left the team without a keeper, so “they stuck me back there.”

“I began to love it,” he said. “A year or two later I made the ODP regional team, and it just hit me that maybe I can do this. I just remember loving the pressure back there, always trying to see the next play and thinking a couple of moves ahead.”

Alex Kapp used a year of eligibility gained after missing a season at Boston College with an injury to play at Creighton University last year, where he began work on a Masters of Business Administration

Kapp said his college choices came down to Georgetown, Louisville and Boston College. He chose B.C. because he was relatively close to home, the school offered excellent academics and the Eagles played in the competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. A medical redshirt after a knee injury left Kapp with the opportunity to transfer and use his fifth year of eligibility.

“I was talking to some other schools, the only thing was that education had always been a big part of it,” he said. “You just never know. This is not a guaranteed lifestyle. I graduated from B.C. in the fall, I wanted to start my MBA. We went to the Elite Eight and I had told myself I didn’t want to look at other schools and make a decision until the season was over.

“B.C. had done so much for me, I didn’t feel it was right. I waited until the season was over and I had a couple of different options, none that would allow me to come in in the spring season. I thought that was important. But at Creighton their grad school started in mid-February, which was the perfect fit for me.”

“I went on recruiting visit and fell in love with it,” he said. “There were never any guarantees that I would be the starter, but it was an open position to be fought for. It was important to get there in the spring because I wanted to gain the respect of the other players and nail down a spot in the fall. It worked out as planned, though we lost to Providence in the Round of 16.”

After playing through a shoulder injury at Creighton, Kapp opted for surgery in January and missed the MLS combine, was still drafted by Atlanta (No. 68 over all, in the fourth round), but did not get back to full strength until May.

“They called me in for two weeks, but after Guzan was signed I saw the writing on the wall,” Kapp, 22, said. “I couldn’t be waiting around and they gave me permission to try elsewhere. I’m lucky I got the opportunity in Minnesota. I came on trial and they just kept extending it.”