Commerce City, Colo. - Following Saturday's match against Melbourne at Aloha Stadium, midfielder Kohei Yamada approached the stands seeking out his mother and brother, who had flown in from Japan with the hope of watching him play (pictured below).
"I was happy that they were there," Yamada said through translator and teammate Kosuke Kimura. "But I didn't feel any added pressure. I was just happy to be able to play in front of them."
Yamada had just made his Rapids debut, coming on in the 75th minute for Jaime Castrillon.
"It was fun," Yamada said. "I know I have to get stronger physically, and continue getting more fit. But I feel like I played the way I like to play - make a pass and move to the space. It was a short period of time but I felt good about it."
Coach Oscar Pareja agreed on both points.
"He showed that technically he has a lot of ability," said Pareja. "He's a dynamic player who I hope little by little continues getting more comfortable. It's a physical league and that is something new to him right now. He went in as I've seen him, as a player with good technical ability who brought a spark to the game."
Playing in the center of the field, Yamada was active and visible, always looking to go forward by combining short and simple passes with clever moves to get out of tight spaces.
"It's a totally different soccer style in the U.S. compared to Japan," he said. "Everybody here is more physical, and they make use of their strength and athleticism. I understand that, and accept that, but I also want to try to adjust that with my style of play."
Coming in at 5'7" and 143 pounds, Yamada believes he'll need to get stronger in order to adapt to the style of play of Major League Soccer. But another important part of the process is understanding the language.
"I need to learn how to better communicate with my teammates," he said. "So I can understand how they want to play, and then we can meet each other halfway to be able to combine more."
Yamada says he knows many English words already. But knowing the words and hearing them spoken by native speakers creates confusion.
"The pronunciation is so different that it makes it difficult to understand," he said. "If I hear them speak slowly, or they hear me slowly, we can understand each other. I just need to keep hearing it spoken more."
Fortunately for Yamada, Kimura has been a big help in relaying the coaching staff's instructions when needed. As have other players who show and guide him. Some of those players are the Colombians Castrillon and Luis Zapata, who themselves are also learning English.
When asked which language he's picked up more, English or Spanish, Yamada didn't need Kimura to translate before answering.
"English, of course," he said with a laugh.