Evin Demirel: Arkansas’ Soccer National Champion Has World Cup Ties


Visit Evin's Author PageThe book of U.S. World Cup highlights is short. But somewhere near the front should be mention of one of our nation’s most proud soccer moments: a third place finish in the 1930 World Cup. To this day it remains the all-time best finish by an American squad in the event. And it started with the U.S. beating Belgium 3-0 in the first round.

The book on Arkansas soccer history is even shorter. And far more hypothetical. Yet here too lie proud moments. Chief among them are exploits by possibly the sport’s only Division I national champion to have lived in the state: Kaoru Forbess. He may also be the only Arkansan who played with two national team members projected to start in America’s do-or-die match against Belgium today.

In 2008, Forbess was a freshman on the University of Maryland’s 2008 national championship team which featured future major pro players like Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez. Zusi, a 27-year-old midfielder, has started the last two World Cup matches and assisted on the pivotal John Brooks header which pushed the U.S. past Ghana in its first game. The 25-year-old Gonzalez, a 6-foot-5 central defender, will play a crucial role in the American gameplan to stymie a potent Belgian attack.

I consider the 24-year-old Forbess, along with former MLS player Domenic Mediate, one of the most accomplished male soccer players in Arkansas history. Likely the first Arkansan to play with a youth national team, Forbess was dominant in his two seasons at Benton High School, racking up 22 goals and 10 assists as a freshman. He then moved to the Dallas area and excelled against tougher competiton, at one point becoming the No. 3-ranked high school player in the nation, according to Rise magazine.

Forbess’s story begins in Japan. There, his father Michael Forbess met his eventual mother Chiyuki. As a young teen in Yokohama, Kaoru played in a developmental soccer program modeled off of European club systems. The family moved to Arkansas in the summer 2003, and Kaoru immediately made his mark as an attacking midfielder. A local coach, Matt Mittelstaedt, encouraged national coaches to come watch Forbess play at a tournament in Burns Park. He ended up being selected to a U-14 national team pool. [Saline County, it appears, doesn’t enjoy widespread recognition as a soccer hotbed. An official youth national team roster circa 2004 notes Forbess is from Benton, ARIZONA. 

Kaoru’s dedication to the sport was evident early on, his father recalled in an e-mail:

“He didn’t watch the game, he studied it.  Looking back, and talking to the dads of other players on the path to the next level, that is what it takes and the common thread of them all.  His intensity was always amazing to me.  When sports writers here approach the subject of soccer in America … they wonder why the American game does not pick up.  That is one of the reasons – the game here is not really studied – it is just played as recreation.

That is fine and great, but not a lot of elites will get produced from that starting point, nor will a lot of fans following develop because a lot of people will never get the point of the competition.  Soccer requires skill and conditioning. Speed of the game doesn’t mean fast players.  It’s speed of decision making ability.  That comes from intense study of the game.  The great players make their decisions very fast, almost without thought.” [Edited for clarity]

Immediatly after arriving from Japan, Forbess spent two years learning English at The Anthony School in Little Rock. That’s the same private school of young Arkansan soccer star Thomas Roberts, who was featured in Sporting Life Arkansas earlier this month. Roberts, a 13-year-old, often trains with older teens. One of them is Kaoru’s younger brother Michiru Forbess, who will play for Oauchita Baptist University next season, said Michael Forbess. 

Kaoru Forbess, who lived in Benton, spent two years playing Arkansas high school ball before moving to the Dallas area for better training opportunities and competition. He joined one of the nation’s elite clubs – Dallas Solar – which included Omar Gonzalez, whom he’d known from national team circles. Kaoru graduated in 2008, and joined the national powerhouse Maryland Terrapins (where Domenic Mediate had also played).

Playing for a team that was sometimes ranked No. 1 in the nation, the 5’10”, 160 pound Forbess put together his best season as a sophomore, starting all but one match and adding two goals and four assists. Check out some of his career highlights below:

Nagging injuries cut into his effectiveness as a senior. Since graduating Maryland in three and a half years, Forbess has played in a couple minor leagues including the indoor Major Arena Soccer League. He played for the Harrisburg (Pa.) Heat last season.

Many Americans in Forbess’ position dream of one day breaking into Major League Soccer, the nation’s top tier of professional soccer. The ones who are already there, like Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi, want the United States as a whole to break through and gain international recognition as a top tier soccer nation.

In 1930, the U.S. briefly held such status. Today, it’s in reach once more.

The U.S.A.'s soccer team is in the Round of 16. How far will it go?

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Demirel wants you to know Belgium has a coach whose nickname, Kampfschewin, roughly translates to “Fighting Razorback.”  Head to thesportseer.com for more Arkansas soccer blogs. Follow Demirel on Twitter, too.

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