There was a time Sporting Kansas City defender Kevin Ellis almost had to give up soccer.
As Kevin and his twin brother, Keith, got older and began playing for more elite club teams, the expenses mounted. Good coaching isn’t cheap and the Ellises started to rack up some significant travel bills that were straining the family budget.
“When we were kids, my parents didn’t have a lot of money,” Ellis said. “Eventually, it came down to either we both quit playing sports, because we couldn’t afford it, or at least one of us did.”
Soccer had become Ellis’ life around age 3 when his late mother, Christina, enrolled her hyper toddler in a recreational soccer program.
She didn’t want to pull her son from soccer, but with her options were dwindling Christina explained everything to Keith.
“We were picking up Kevin from soccer practice and I was in the car with my mom,” he said. “She kind of told me the situation before he came to the car and I basically just told her, ‘Kevin loves soccer.’ I played more for fun anyway, but Kevin always loved it.”
Look at him now — Kevin Ellis, a 2009 Oak Park (Mo.) High graduate, is making history.
He became Sporting KC’s first Homegrown Player to play in an MLS match when he subbed on for Seth Sinovic at left back in the 63rd minute June 29 during a 3-2 win against Columbus at Sporting Park.
Ellis, who turned 22 one day later, then became the first Homegrown Player to start in a league match and drew rave reviews from manager Peter Vermes among others for an 86-minute shift during a 1-1 draw Wednesday against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“My mom put me in soccer when I was 3 because I had too much energy, so I don’t think she pictured at that point what it could turn out to be,” Kevin said. “But as I got older, she told me on a daily basis this is what she wanted me to do and she made sacrifices for me. My whole family made sacrifices for me to be able to be here.”
That includes Keith, who finished up a three-year tour with the U.S. Army on April 2.
His selflessness allowed Kevin to keep playing for coach Todd Logan’s Futura Futbol Club squad. He later linked up with Sporting KC Juniors and emerged as an All-American at Barton Community College before signing a Homegrown Player contract in February 2011.
“I always told him, ‘It’s not really a sacrifice. In my mind, it’s just fair,’” Keith said. “He loved it so much and I was fine without it. It’s not a big deal.”
It was, however, a very big deal for Kevin.
“I’ll never forget it,” he said. “I mean, we were 13 or 14 maybe and my brother came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I want you to keep playing, because I believe in you. I’m not going to play sports anymore.’ Honestly, it brought me to tears to hear my brother — at 14 — tell me he had that much faith in me.”
Avere fiducia is Italian for “have confidence/have faith,” and Kevin has those words tattooed on his left forearm. It became something of an Ellis family motto.
Watching Kevin start his first MLS match Wednesday, it was Keith’s turn to tear up.
“I can’t really explain the feeling that I had,” Keith said. “I saw him start in the (Lamar Hunt U.S. Open) Cup game a couple weeks ago. Both times, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s one of those things, when you know someone’s worked their whole life toward something, especially your twin brother, it’s crazy.
“To know what he’s feeling, being able to live his childhood dream, I’m speechless. I’m tearing up right now talking about this. Knowing how hard that he worked and how hard my mom worked for us, I was so proud. I love him. He’s my best friend and one of the best guys I know, and this is just the beginning.”