There are a number of hopefuls with the Colorado Rapids in Tucson, desperate to impress, bag a professional contract and make a name for themselves. Also in Arizona with the first team is a young man whose name, once heard, is already difficult to forget.
Kainoa Likewise, a 17-year-old goalkeeper set to graduate in the coming months, has temporarily swapped his school studies for soccer studies as he looks to learn from some of the best in the business.
“Kai had been training with the first team at the end of the 2016 season and I wanted a young goalkeeper to come in and take some of the work-load off the healthy goalkeepers - Zac (MacMath) and Cody (Mizell) - get some reps, and simply be in and around the group.”
In his fourth year with the Colorado Rapids Development Academy, Likewise has already been picked up on the US Soccer Federation’s (USSF) radar. He was part of the USSF’s national goalkeeper pool in 2014-15, having been invited to their training centers the previous year.
“Kai is a very hard-working goalkeeper,” Sharpe added. “He is very committed to understanding his role in the position, has a good understanding of what’s being asked from his U18 DA coach, and what his role within the team is.
“Kai’s biggest three strengths are his technical ability - he has very good hands and feet - his shot-stopping ability, and he has wonderful reactions in and around his body.
“Over the past 12 months we have worked hard and concentrated on the goalkeepers’ role and ability to play out from the back. Kai has grasped this concept quite well and is starting to be comfortable with the ball at his feet when playing out, which is a big plus in today’s game.”
For the Rapids he was among the U18s squad which traveled to Germany last August, where the Development Academy tackled their TSV 1860 Munich counterparts under the watchful eye of Chris Martinez.
"Kainoa brings the right attitude and approach to every single training session and match we play," said Martinez, the DA's Program Director and U18's coach. "His leadership and blue collar work ethic are consistently displayed and these qualities are infectious with our group.
"His invaluable experience training with the first team has truly allowed him to lead our team in good times as well as in difficult situations. He holds himself to the highest standards on and off the field, and I am very fortunate to be able to coach such a well-rounded young man."
Likewise, of Colorado Springs, has played a key role in the U18’s success this season. Not only did he make big saves in a 3-2 win over Real Salt Lake, but he also saved a penalty in a 1-0 victory over San Jose Earthquakes. He was excellent, meanwhile, in games against Seattle Sounders FC (0-0) and LA Galaxy (3-0), two outings in December which were the start of five clean-sheets.
He will have learnt much from his experiences with the DA, but his preseason spell with the senior squad will take his soccer education to another level.
“Watching the high expectations that Tim, Zac, John and Cody set for themselves each day in training, and seeing the fine, intricate details that top-level goalkeepers work through each day to refine their individual games are invaluable,” Sharpe said.
“The hope is that Kai can take that back to the U18 group and grow as a leader and pass that onto his team.”