By Brian Westfall, Soccer Editor
Washington, D.C. (Sports Network) -
At a postgame press conference following D.C. United's last game, coach Tom Soehn sat in front of a black curtain with team logos and tried to explain why he sat Luciano Emilio in favor of rookie Guy-Roland Kpene.
At first, the coach started to say Emilio just needed a break after two 90-minute games in just six days. A third game in nine days might have been too much to ask of Emilio, a Brazilian who signed with United in January.
But before Soehn finished talking about the switch, the coach added without hesitation: "More than anything, Guy deserved it."
Kpene proved why the coach gave him a chance. He assisted on one of United's two goals - the other was on a penalty kick - in a 2-1 win over CD Chivas USA on May 6.
"I thought Guy did well - he's a handful, he's still young," D.C. midfielder Ben Olsen said. "He'll learn from his first professional start. Give him some more minutes and he'll get better."
He only needed 66 minutes in his first career Major League Soccer start to show there are many more good things ahead in his career. And it wasn't just because of the assist, a brilliant flick-on to set up Christian Gomez's goal.
Tom Soehn has chosen his Guy.
Kpene had been training with United for months, but until his work visa was approved he couldn't take the field. Normally it only takes a few weeks but Kpene's visa took longer because he moved to the U.S. years earlier with his mother, a United Nations employee.
So the Ivory Coast native worked hard in the shadows, finally getting the news he anxiously awaited before a game against New England on May 3. His work visa had finally gone through.
The news was good for Kpene, 24, but it wasn't the best news of the day. Soehn also told Kpene he would be on the 18-man roster for the game that night. He came on as a second-half sub and played 11 minutes.
Not that Soehn needed any more confirmation - the potential was obvious in practice - but in Kpene's brief debut "he didn't look like a rookie," Soehn told the Washington Post.
A few days later, Kpene was in the starting lineup for the first time in his brief MLS career. When Kpene was taken out, he was replaced by Emilio.
Kpene was a prolific scorer at Dowling College, combining for 38 goals and 17 assists in two seasons. He had 25 goals to lead the team to the NCAA Division II national championship in 2006. He was picked in the third round of the 2007 MLS supplemental draft in January.
Although his offensive skills were polished, he wasn't used to playing defense in college. Soehn worked with him and he's made the transition well, so far. Obviously, Kpene still has a lot learn on the professional level, but he's shown he's way ahead of the curve.
Following the win over Chivas USA, Kpene just sat in front of his locker and soaked in the moment.
Who can blame him?
"We were waiting for that moment for so long," Kpene said with a smile about the United's first win of the season. "Now we can be more confident."
Only Soehn knows if Kpene will remain in United's starting lineup. But one thing is for sure: Kpene is dangerous. And Soehn has already proven he's not afraid to use him or any other younger player, and he doesn't care if a more established player sits the bench.
"Guy's been very good. He's shown some real maturity for a young kid. I haven't been afraid to use (younger players) and gauge a lot on what you do in training. The guys who step up and do it in training are going to play," Soehn said. "I said that in the beginning, It doesn't matter how much you make. If you come out and do the work, you're going to see time on the field."