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Former UWGB goalie finds home in USL

By Greg Bates

GREEN BAY – Kyle Ihn said he received a call in early January of this year that got him excited.

The young goalkeeper was told he’d been acquired by the Oklahoma City Energy FC, his third professional soccer team in his first three seasons in the United Soccer League (USL).

The former University of Wisconsin-Green Bay goalie had played for Energy head coach John Pascarella with the Des Moines Menace in 2017 and a preseason camp for the Minnesota United FC the following year.

Kyle Ihn

“He’s someone I like being around,” Ihn said about Pascarella. “He’s a positive guy. The goalkeeper group we have – Cody Laurendi and CJ Cochrane – is experienced. We’re also close, grabbing coffees on our day off.”

The 25-year-old Ihn said he feels he’s landed in a great spot with a supportive coach where he can improve his game by learning from a pair of veteran goalies.

“He was on our radar for a while,” said Energy goalie coach Alexis Vizarelis. “He fits our club well. We were ecstatic when (Kyle) decided to join us.”

Even though the USL season is relatively fresh after the restart due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Ihn hasn’t had lots of work with the veteran goalies, he said he’s picking up pointers.

“All three of them are close on and off the field,” Vizarelis said. “Kyle is finding out he has as much knowledge and accountability. He’s opinionated, but I like that.”

Leaving UWGB in 2017, Ihn was a four-year starter for the Phoenix and appeared in all 17 of his team’s games as a senior.

Despite posting a 1.26 goals-against average, UWGB tallied only five wins that season.

During his final year in college, Ihn appeared in 13 games for Kokomo Mantis FC.

Ihn, who attended Kettle Moraine High School, signed with Des Moines in 2017 and played in six games, saving 84 percent of the shots he faced.

The next year, he began preseason camp with the Minnesota United FC of Major League Soccer before landing with Reno 1868 FC, making one start.

Reno opted not to re-sign Ihn, and he was picked up by Lansing Ignite FC.

The Ignite franchise folded after one season, leaving Ihn without a team before Oklahoma City acquired him.

“It’s been a great three years out of Green Bay,” Ihn said. “It’s been nice experiencing every part of the country.”

Vizarelis said he likes how calm Ihn is.

“He’s exceptional with his feet,” he said. “The modern game is moving that way, and goalkeepers are more important than they’ve ever been.”

The USL had its season halted in early March because of the pandemic, so Ihn and his teammates were forced away from soccer for about eight weeks until the end of May.

“It went back to how it was in high school when my roommates and teammates would search on Google trying to find public parks to kick the ball around because we were missing it,” Ihn said.

The Energy returned for its first game July 13, and Ihn said it’s been different.

“A mask is worn until you go on the field, then you can take it off,” he said. “As soon as the training is over, the mask goes back on. We’re getting tested once a week, which is fantastic from a league standpoint knowing security is okay. We know the results of the test within 24 hours.”

Ihn hasn’t had the chance to start a match yet this season with his new club.

“I need to provide consistency,” he said. “Coaches want to know when they put you in, you’re going to be providing. Sometimes you have to wait it out, requires an injury or the team has a string of games and a tight window and it needs to use all 25 guys on the roster. At times, guys need a day off.”

Ihn said he’s hoping for a long professional career.

“I have the potential for a decent, long-term career,” he said. “I’ve played for three clubs in three years now, so hopefully, I gain a bit of traction somewhere instead of hopping around. In terms of talent and production, I think I’ll be able to do it.”

Vizarelis said he agrees his pupil has a bright path ahead of him.

“He’s a player who’s going to grow and have a great career, whether it’s at this level or a level higher,” he said.

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