Kaw Valley FC already has a star, and his name is Tucker Stephenson
photo by: Carter Gaskins
It takes time for an expansion club to create an identity. Bit by bit, Kaw Valley FC, the newest occupant of the Rock Chalk Park soccer stadium, is taking on a personality.
The Cranes compete in the Heartland Division, which is part of the Central Conference of the Premier Development Soccer League.
The roster is stocked with college players, past and present.
The organization already has a uniform sponsor (OrthoKansas), a mascot (Casey the Crane), a loud superfan (The Bearded Heckler), and two matches into the Lawrence portion of its schedule, a pretty good following (750 spectators in the home opener, 800 on Friday).
The Cranes even have their first star, Tucker Stephenson from Loyola of Chicago.
Stephenson attended Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, spent two years playing for West Virginia, transferred to Loyola, played seven matches, broke his collarbone and had to shut it down for the rest of the season. He’s healthy now, and five matches into the season, he has scored half the club’s goals.
Stephenson scored his fourth goal in the past four matches on Friday night, starting a comeback that never was completed. The unbeaten Des Moines Menace defeated Kaw Valley FC, 2-1. (The FC, by the way, stands for Football Club).
The loss evened the Cranes’ record at 2-2-1. Ryosuke Kinoshita scored both goals for the Menace (3-0-0) in the first half and already has five goals for the young season.
Cranes coach Istvan Urbanyi knows Stephenson’s game well, having coached him on the Sporting KC 17-18 team, for which Stephenson scored six goals in 24 appearances.
Cranes teammate Ryan Kellogg, from Parkville, Mo., also teamed with Stephenson at the Sporting KC Academy and for a season at West Virginia.
“He’s always had a knack for goals,” Kellogg said. “It doesn’t surprise me what he’s doing.”
Even so, Stephenson said he’s never had a goal-scoring stretch quite like this. He attributed it to “working out a lot at night by myself and just eating well.”
He thought for a second and decided to share what he believes might be the cause of his goal spree.
“I just want to say thanks to my parents,” Stephenson said. “The food they provide at home is phenomenal. You don’t always get that when you’re away at school. My mom makes these really great salmon sticks.”
For Mars Blackmon, it was the shoes. For Tucker Stephenson, it’s the salmon sticks.
“Tucker has great qualities,” Urbanyi said. “He’s fast, ambitious, and probably what drives him right now is he really wants to be a pro. We already had (one-on-one) meetings and he asked me to help him make that dream come true. He shows his quality in goal situations. Now we have to work on the easy part, what to do between those situations.”
“You have to learn to play without the ball, being part of an organized team,” Urbanyi said. “It’s not a secret. We try to produce players for Sporting Kansas City. I already can see Tucker replacing players in the future on that team. … That’s the best challenge for these players because to knock on that door over there, it’s very hard, but it’s nothing compared to getting through that door. With these goals, he can knock on the door. To learn the game without the ball is his challenge.”
The coach and the player will work hard together to try to round out Stephenson’s game. That’s why it’s called a development league.