Oxford's most accomplished soccer player headed for Hall of Fame
July 27, 2011 - Kellen Kalso enters the Oxford High School Athletic Hall of Fame as the most accomplished soccer player in school history.
Kalso (click for larger version)|
"It's a wonderful honor . . . to be a part of such a wonderful group (representing) Oxford," said Kalso, who graduated in 2000.
"It's pretty cool to look back and reflect on the accomplishments now that I am removed from the sports world," he added.
Kalso began playing soccer at the age of three in the Oxford/Orion house league.
Coached by his father, Kalso would play with the league until he was nine before joining a club team based in Utica.
"We had been playing in an indoor league and I was seen by a club team...so I joined that club team and started playing at a higher level," Kalso said.
The team switched it's name to Vardar when Kalso was 12 and during his time with Vardar, Kalso would earn six state titles and one national championship.
When he stepped onto the varsity soccer field as a freshman in 1996, he was voted team captain and his impact was immediately felt. He finished as a Flint Metro League (FML) all-conference selection and was named to the all-area team as well as the all-county and Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association all-state honorable mention squads.
According to Kalso, there wasn't any additional pressure to perform when he was voted captain during his first season with the Wildcats.
"It was a situation where there were a couple guys I even looked up to...I had a pretty competitive youth career up until that point, so before I even entered the high school arena, I was used to playing against top level competition nationally with my club team," he said.
As a sophomore, Kalso continued his stellar rise in the world of soccer. Named captain for the second consecutive season, Kalso would switch from defense, his natural position, to midfield.
"I think once you are in the midfield, you really have to take a big look at the scope of the whole field the whole game," he said.
During the 1997 season, he would lead the Wildcats in scoring and assists.
"It was a lot more involvement for me on the offensive side of the ball, versus set plays and corner kicks when I would go forward as a defender," he added. "For the most part, it was kind of inserting myself offensively and being able to take on more of an attacking role."
The accolades would keep piling up for Kalso. Following the 1997 season, he would be named to the all-FML, all-area, all-county and the Detroit News Dream Teams in addition to being named to the MHSSCA all-state team for the second consecutive year.
In 1998, his final season with the varsity program, Kalso earned all-FML, all-area, all-county and Detroit News Dream Team honors. He also received his third consecutive MHSSCA all-state award and was named to Parade Magazine's All-America team.
During the 1998 season, Kalso would miss some games due to attending camps in Florida for the under-17 United States National soccer team.
Following the conclusion of districts, Kalso would head down to Bradenton, Florida to participate full-time in the national team's inaugural residency program.
Kalso was invited to participate with the team after coaches saw his performance during the under-16 national championships in Arizona.
"A couple of coaches and scouts watched me play throughout that competition and two days after I returned home, I got a phone call from them inviting me to national team camp," he said.
He would spend his first semester of his senior year in the program before returning to Oxford and graduating.
Kalso called it the "best experience of his life."
"With the national team, you are talking about being paired up with 17 of the best kids in the United States in your age groups," he said. "It was just an unbelievable to get that mentoring from that coaching staff, to be able to play on that level every day with guys who are just as good, if not better than you."
He made his international debut on Nov. 28, 1998 and had an assist against Sweden on his way to being named to National Soccer Coaches Association of America's (NSCAA) All-American team.
As part of the US under-17 team, Kalso helped the USA earn a fourth place finish during the World Championships in 1999.
"It's definitely a different sense of pride being able to put on your national team jersey and knowing you are representing the United States. It's a different feeling than I ever had before," he said.
"To know you are on that level – on a global stage in front of 40,000 (or) 50,000 fans – there is a big adrenaline rush when you are talking about that experience," he added. "It was just a fantastic learning experience; experiencing different cultures along the way, playing in different country after different country, from Europe to Asia to South America, you just get to learn a lot about the world at the same time while playing soccer at the highest possible level."
For his efforts, he earned Adidas, Parade Magazine and NSCAA All-America honors.
Following his graduation in 2000, Kalso signed a letter of intent to play for Indiana University, who won the NCAA Championship in 1999.
However, Kalso suffered a preseason knee injury, which forced him to redshirt. He would eventually transfer to Michigan State University, where he would start every game during his four-year career with the Spartans.
He would set the career records for games and minutes played and was named to various All Big-Ten teams after his junior and senior seasons. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in Communications.
Kalso attributes his success to the countless hours his family sacrificed for him to play soccer. "The many hours my mom spent driving back and forth to practices for my brother and I definitely went a long way," he said.
Kalso currently works and resides in Orlando, Florida.
Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.