Many 14-year-olds spend their free time playing video games or scrolling through TikTok. Axel Kei, meanwhile, will be playing professional sports.
Major League Soccer’s Real Salt Lake signed Kei to a two-year deal on Friday, making him the league’s youngest signee ever at only 14 years and 15 days. Freddy Adu, who previously held the record since signing with D.C. United in 2004, was 153 days older than Kei.
Kei, a 6-foot-4 forward from RSL Academy, was born in Ivory Coast and raised in Brazil. He relocated to San Diego, California with his family in 2017.
It didn’t take long for Kei to make a mark on American soccer. Kei became the youngest professional athlete in U.S. history when he subbed into an Oct. 8, 2021 game for the lower-division Real Monarchs. He was only 13 years, 8 months and nine days old at the time.
As Kei ages, Real Salt Lake thinks he can leap to stardom.
“Over the last year Axel has proven to be one of the top attacking prospects in the country,” Real Salt Lake general manager Elliot Fall said in a statement. “His propensity in front of goal is well beyond his years, and coupled with his elite athleticism, he projects to become a goal-scoring force in our league in the years to come.”
Kei was already a goal-scoring force at the youth level, as the eventual Golden Boot winner led RSL Academy’s under-15 team to an MLS Next Cup Championship last summer. Now, the 14-year-old will hope to carry his success over to the senior club.
Given Paredes’s talent, United recognized it would lose him to a European club at some point in the next year or so. Nonetheless, it hoped he would, at the very least, start the MLS season, then perhaps move this summer or next winter. But Paredes’s value continued to rise overseas, and the offers became too hard to resist.
Both Canada and the US earned victories this past Thursday to keep pace in their bids to reach the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Canada sit atop the eight-team Octagonal standings with 19 points, with the USMNT one point behind (18) and in second place in the race for three automatic World Cup berths.
Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Sunday’s game.
D.C. United homegrown Kevin Paredes is making the big move, with VfL Wolfsburg swooping in to bring the Virginia native to the Bundesliga. Terms were not reported by either club, but The Athletic’s Pablo Maurer has reported the German side is putting up $7.35 million in their initial transfer fee, with United getting an additional $500,000 if Paredes meets certain benchmarks relating to appearance totals. The Black-and-Red would also be due 10% of any transfer fee Wolfsburg brings in by selling Paredes’ rights in the future.
“We couldn’t be prouder and happier for Kevin to follow his dreams to compete in a great league like the German Bundesliga,” said Dave Kasper, United’s President of Soccer Operations, in a team press release. “Kevin’s rapid rise from our Academy to a first team starter is a testament to his desire, talent, and commitment, as well as a lot of hard work and support from our great coaches and staff at the club. All of us at the club wish Kevin a very long and successful professional career.”
“We are extremely proud of Kevin and the work that he has done to earn his opportunity to play at the highest level in Europe,” said United GM Lucy Rushton. “As a Homegrown, this transfer reflects the commitment and investment our ownership have made in our Academy infrastructure to prepare Kevin to fulfill his lifelong dream. We want to thank him for representing the club with so much pride and wish him the best of luck in his next chapter in the top flight of European soccer.”
Paredes, 18, made his debut in professional soccer with Loudoun United late in the 2019 USL Championship season, and his rise since then has been remarkable. D.C. United offered him a homegrown contract that winter, and while the MLS season was disrupted by Covid-19, a series of injuries and struggles as a club opened the door for Paredes to show what he could do. After making his debut in the MLS is Back Tournament that summer, Paredes used the next couple of months to assert himself as not just a promising youngster, but a player who was going to be a factor every week.
In 2021, under Hernán Losada, Paredes was first-choice whenever healthy, thriving as the team’s left wingback and quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to his dribbling ability and high-energy style of play. In the end, Paredes made 41 appearances (28 starts) in his two seasons with United.
United will be able to convert $1.05 million of the fee into General Allocation Money (GAM), which they have stockpiled of late. Paredes’ departure comes two days after United made an MLS-record GAM trade, sending Paul Arriola to FC Dallas in a deal possibly worth up to $2.3 million. However, the club has also moved plenty of GAM in the meantime, sending $750,000 to the Seattle Sounders to acquire Brad Smith — very likely the player who will step into Paredes’ shoes on the left — just yesterday.
The news of Paredes moving to Wolfsburg serves on one hand as an example to promising young players that United is capable of bringing a talent along quickly. Paredes went from academy program, to Loudoun, to starting at Audi Field, to the Bundesliga in very little time. Despite a record of giving more minutes to homegrown players than the majority of MLS clubs, United has to some extent had a reputation in youth soccer circles that was not favorable.
The club’s Pathway to Pro program was enacted to help change that, and between teenagers like Paredes, Moses Nyeman, and Griffin Yow getting first-team minutes, and Ryan Martin fielding one of the younger teams in the USL Championship over the last two seasons, there is a clear emphasis on shifting that perception. Paredes moving to the Bundesliga at 18 years old will go a long way on that front.
On the other hand, United’s hopes on the field take a hit with the move. Paredes, along with Andy Najar and Julian Gressel, were the players in 2022 that had to be at their best for United to hit top gear. Losing Paredes’ dribbling ability on the left, even with an experienced and respected replacement already in place, will be an obstacle for Losada and co. on the field this season.