Photo courtesy 2017 Florida Cup
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – As a former member of the U.S. U17 Residency at IMG Academy in Bradenton, the past week has been a return of sorts for VfL Wolfsburg’s McKinze Gaines as he returns to the States with the Bundesliga club for the 2017 Florida Cup.
“I played and I made many great memories there, so it’s great to be back,” Gaines.
Part of the U.S. U17 National Team’s 2015 cycle, Gaines signed with Wolfsburg days after turning 18 years of age last March, and this past year spent time with Head Coach Brad Friedel’s U19 group. The past year has seen him transition to becoming a professional, which while it has been difficult at times is proving well worth the effort.
“It hasn’t been flawless, obviously, but it’s been as smooth as it probably could have gone,” said Gaines. “I’m thankful to have good friends around me, my German is improving daily, so the transition has been good.”
His comfort in his surroundings is being reflected on the field. Gaines has scored five goals in 14 games this season for Wolfsburg’s U19 team, which sat second in the U19 Bundesliga at the Winter break, one point behind Hertha Berlin with a game in hand.
Then on Sunday he recorded an assist on Robert Hermann’s second goal as a youthful Wolfburg lineup took a 2-0 victory against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the side’s opening game of the Florida Cup. Taking victory in front of the current crop of U.S. U17s, who were recognized during the day’s doubleheader at Al Lang Stadium, was a memorable moment.
“It’s been a phenomenal experience,” said Gaines. “Obviously after a win everybody is overjoyed, but to do it in front of fans that I’ve played in front of before and do it in familiar surroundings is tremendous.”
That Gaines has found success this quickly is not a surprise to Paul Dalglish, who coached and mentored him during his youth career in Austin. The current Ottawa Fury FC Head Coach said Gaines’ ability stood out immediately when he first got the chance to work with him.
“He’s somebody when you first see him, he’s just got world-class speed, and that immediately takes your eye,” said Dalglish last week. “He’s breathtakingly quick, and he’s got that ability, much like a player at Liverpool when I was younger called Steve McManaman, to run away from you with the ball without even looking like he’s going fast because he’s got such an efficient running style that he’s lightning-quick without looking like he’s trying hard to run quick.”
Photo courtesy 2017 Florida Cup
Dalglish’s influence was an important one for Gaines, who played for Dalglish at both the Dynamo Juniors and Lonestar SC in Texas’ capital.
“He’s a great person, first of all, but his football mind makes him a tremendous asset,” said Gaines. “Some of my movement that I had today was based off things that he told me in training, so obviously he’s a very intelligent man and I’m grateful to have worked with him.”
Now Gaines is striking out, and looking to make the move up the ranks in Germany alongside his young counterparts in the Wolfsburg system. With the tools at his disposal, Dalglish believes Gaines can ascend as high as his desire can take him.
“With his speed, there’s really not too much else that you need in football because he’s got a good touch, good technique,” Dalglish said. “Everybody’s looking for people with his pace, but there’s not that many about, so it’s really up to him. He can achieve whatever he wants to achieve.”
As he closes in on his 19th birthday, Gaines is confident he’s well-placed to reach the top level.
“Being a professional footballer is what I’ve wanted ever since I’ve been a young kid,” Gaines said. “Wolfsburg had all the assets to make me the player I can be.”