Jon Kempin cranked the radio a little louder than usual last Tuesday as he made his way to Livestrong Sporting Park.
Only two years removed from roaming the halls at Blue Valley North, Kempin — who was the first homegrown player Sporting Kansas City signed in its history — has made the drive dozens of times before, but he had reason to be amped a little more for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tilt with Orlando City SC.
Kempin, 19, was about to make his professional debut. He’d played in the Kansas 6A state tournament and suited up in Sporting KC reserve games, but now he’d be playing in front of 10,000 fans with his club’s championship hopes on the line.
“I was excited and a little nervous as well, being that it is a Cup game — an elimination game and not just a regular game, where if you lose maybe you could make it up later,” Kempin said.
So he blasted the radio and did his best to keep those nerves in check.
“I was getting pretty pumped for it,” Kempin said.
The reviews after Sporting KC’s 3-2 win were mostly favorable.
“It was a historical moment in the club’s history — the first guy we signed getting his first opportunity in a professional game,” manager Peter Vermes said. “And he played well. He could have done better on that second goal, but for the most part he was solid.”
Kempin kept the club in the game with several aggressive bolts from his line to snuff out one-on-one chances and made a spectacular sprawling save to deny former MLS first-round pick and Generation adidas player Jamie Watson.
Kempin, who stonewalled Watson again only minutes into the second half, finished with six saves.
“He showed what I expected from him and turned in a great, great, great performance,” Sporting KC starting goalkeeper (and Kempin’s mentor) Jimmy Nielsen said. “He was no doubt our best player today and made some very difficult saves in some very important moments, but that didn’t surprise me. I know this kid has talent and can go very far with his career.”
All careers have to start somewhere, and Kempin’s finally and officially has kicked off.
“It’s great to get that first one out of the way,” he admitted.
With Nielsen well-rested and no MLS contest for Sporting KC until June 16 against Toronto FC at home, Vermes hadn’t decided whether he would go with Kempin again in the Open Cup fourth round at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night against the Colorado Rapids at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“It’s been two years since I’ve been with the team now,” Kempin said when asked about the prospect of facing an MLS side. “I feel confident. If I had to go into a first-team, regular-season game, I think I’d be fine.”To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.