Islander Abi Kim can barely remember her first foray into the sport that she now plays at the world level and intends to make a career out of.
“I started playing soccer in about second grade,” she said, in an interview with The Beachcomber. “Yeah, that was pretty, pretty far back.”
Recently named to the U.S. national team that will compete this month at the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France, Kim, now a striker for the University of California, Berkeley Bears, looked back on her days as young player.
“I started playing club soccer in about the fifth grade, and that’s when I started going off island,” she explained. “At first I played with the Greater Renton Football Club, but then they stopped playing — and I kind of wanted to stop playing too. But my dad suggested I give it another year.”
That “year” has since become a decade, and Kim has no regrets about taking her father’s suggestion.
Kim continued to commute off island while attending McMurray Middle School to play for what ultimately became the Pacific Northwest Soccer Club, where she made the “A team.”
“That was pretty fun, the A team does a lot of traveling,” she added. “We played games in California. And on those trips, there was a lot of college recruiting … there were a lot of colleges there, looking at us.”
Indeed, as Kim started high school as a freshman at Seattle Christian, college coaches were already reaching out to her. Cal was one of the schools that reached out early, and Kim remembers the day she signed her letter of intent to play soccer for Cal in her sophomore year of high school.
“April 15,” she said. “I can hardly remember the year, but I remember that day.”
There would be more soccer-related important days to come for Kim, as she made second team All Pac 12 at the end of her freshman year as a Bear, tied for the team lead in scoring this past season, and did we mention that she was previously a member of the Under-18 U.S. Women’s National Team?
“I started being invited to the national camps my senior year of high school,” she said. “It’s just been really exciting to play for the national team — It’s always been a dream, but I never thought I’d actually be here. It didn’t become real to me until I was there, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Those who know her aren’t surprised.
“We are so proud of Abi for making the World Cup roster,” said her Cal head coach Neil McGuire, in a story reported by Cal Athletics. “She has spent endless hours working on her craft and has turned into a fabulous player.”
It is those “endless hours” that Kim credits for her success so far.
“You’ve got to keep pushing yourself. When you’re tired? You have to do more. Do you want to stop a guy? Do one more,” she said, sharing what she’s learned about success in the sport. “You have to make sure you’re fit, that your weaknesses improve … you have to have confidence in yourself. There is always something to work on, so you should never not be doing something.”
What Kim will be “doing” over the next few weeks is competing with her national teammates at the U-20 Women’s World Cup — an event that is held every two years. Since it’s inception in 2002, the U.S. has qualified nine times and won three, last in 2012. This year sees 16 countries from around the globe competing in Brittany, France. The U.S. U-20 squad fought its way through to the final 16 via 13 training camps and 27 international matches.
“I missed a lot of classes,” Kim said, about the time requirements of being on the national team. “We had a camp at least every three weeks that would last for about two weeks or so. We have put in so much work.”
It is work that she believes will be worth it in the end.
“I think if we play to our best abilities, I think we could really win the whole thing,” she added.
And this is all just a small taste of what Kim is shooting for, as she is open about her ambitions to earn a spot on what she calls the “full team,” or the U.S. Women’s National Team; on it she would play for the United States at the Olympics or World Cup. Ultimately, she would like to play on a professional team.
“I am going to finish my junior year, and then in my senior year, I’m going to graduate early, in the fall of 2019, and then go into the draft (Jan. 2020) and hopefully get selected to go pro,” she said. “It’s been my dream to be a professional soccer player.”
Kim is on track to graduate half a year early with a degree in legal studies.
And as another one of Vashon’s young-adult athletes prepares to compete on the world stage, she shared some insight for those hoping to follow in her footsteps:
“I’ve been learning the path to success is not just one straight line. There are a lot of ups and downs, and most people don’t see the downs,” she said. “But you just have to remember when you’re down, you’ve just got to keep working hard because if it was easy, everyone could do it.”
Team U.S.A. will play Japan Aug. 6, Paraguay Aug. 9 and Spain on Aug. 13 in the group stage of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.