Eight by Eight’s Grant Czubinski sits down with the the fresh-faced fullback who has solidified a place in D.C. United’s starting eleven
When in August D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen intoned to the media, “We believe in Taylor Kemp,” the remark seemed to reflect Olsen’s aspirations for the 2nd year fullback more than they did present reality. Kemp had backed into United’s starting lineup after Christian Fernandez—a homesick La Liga veteran—left the club, and Chris Korb picked up an injury.
Left with no alternative but Kemp, Olsen’s comments followed the twenty-four-year old’s first start of the season where a last minute defensive lapse gifted the Houston Dynamo victory. Despite the error, Olsen stuck with the young left back. With United’s playoff ambitions at stake, Olsen had no choice but to believe.
“I kept telling myself a chance will come and it eventually did,” Kemp recently told Eight By Eight. “You never want to see a guy go, but it is professional sports, and you’re there because you want to play. When [Christian] left, I was happy. I wanted to fight for a place in the team.”
Kemp did just that, slotting into the backline seamlessly during United’s brutal run of games late in the summer. In his second start, Kemp notched two assists against Colorado and continued to show well down the stretch, propelling United into the playoffs.
And now, with United’s season on life support after a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls in the first round of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Olsen will need Kemp to defy expectations once again to continue their turnaround season.
Growing up in the Denver suburb Highland Ranch, Kemp was always one of the best players on his online casino team, but a switch from left midfield to left back during his junior year of high school shaped his future career.
“It was a big, eye opening experience,” said Kemp. The position change prompted youth national call-ups, All-American accolades, and looks from college scouts, including Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse Maryland, which he joined in 2009.
“I fell in love with the ACC style of soccer” recalled Kemp, who credits Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski for his growth. “I wanted to win championships in college and go on to the pros, and they gave me a great chance to do those things.”
Kemp became a four-year starter at Maryland, capturing two ACC championships. His performances earned him several training stints with DC United and the club drafted him in the first round of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft.
While Kemp was familiar with United, his initial transition to the professional football was not as he expected. Kemp yo-yoed between the Richmond Kickers, D.C.’s lower league affiliate, and United during his rookie season.
“It was hard going back and forth,” Kemp said. “You feel like you don’t really have a place. I knew I was good enough to be in MLS and to play for DC and that my time would come. I just wanted to stay.”
The beginning of his second season with United would initially mirror his first, but when opportunities provided Kemp with playing time, he proved that he deserved a starting spot.
The apex of Kemp’s development came on October 12 in Houston where his path to sustained first team minutes had gotten off to a rocky start just two months prior. He returned a different player, scoring his first career MLS goal en route to a 3-1 United victory—their first ever against the Dynamo in Texas.
“That kind exorcised some demons that I had there,” said Kemp.
In the locker room, Kemp’s modesty has easily won over his teammates who have readily supported him throughout his young career.
“Everybody likes him,” said United captain Bobby Boswell. “I call him the ‘Basement Baby’ because he’s good at all of the skill games that you’d find in a basement.”
“He had a lot of guys always building him up,” Boswell continued. “Eddie Johnson and a couple of the other guys were always big supporters of him always telling him to keep focused and to stay true to himself.”
And that is just what the Colorado native has done: stayed on an even keel throughout, although he still sees room for growth. With his club facing its toughest challenge of the season, United will again ask Kemp to raise the level of his game to match the intensity of the MLS Cup playoffs.
“I hope to eventually get called up to the national team and get back into that scene,” said Kemp. “I want to be the guy that teams rely on week in, week out.”