Wan Kuzain: St. Louis native makes hometown return with St Louis CITY2

Written by Hannah Boxerman

When Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal heard St. Louis was getting a pro soccer team, he had one thought:

“I gotta get there.”

The Illinois native grew up playing youth soccer with St. Louis Scott Gallagher SC. Kuzain’s Malaysian-born father, now a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, had played professionally; he then started his own club in Carbondale, called Southern Illinois Force. Both of Kuzain’s brothers got involved with soccer from a young age as well. His younger brother Wan Kuzri currently plays at Akron University. 

“I would just follow my older brother and be that annoying little kid hanging out on the sidelines, kicking the ball, being a little nuisance,” Kuzain said. “That’s what I was told, that I always had a soccer ball around, getting in people’s way. Those were some of my earliest memories of soccer.” 

The young Kuzain quickly distinguished himself as a standout player while at Scott Gallagher, earning an offer to play at The University of Akron. However, he went pro before he could make it to Ohio, eventually signing a contract with the MLS team Sporting KC.

Kuzain considers the Kansas City years extremely formative. The eighteen-year-old player was mentored by older teammates who showed him the ropes. He sharpened his skills; he made friends; he challenged himself; he became a real pro.

But he never forgot his dream of coming back home. The now 23-year-old midfielder is making waves at St. Louis CITY2, St. Louis CITY SC’s MLS NEXT Pro team—even scoring the first-ever goal in the league’s history—and is loving every minute of his hometown return. 

“Being able to be home, to play in front of friends and family, is everything,” Kuzain said. “Putting on that shirt, and knowing what soccer means to people here…St. Louis really is a soccer capital of America. The fans are supporting us on rainy days, on cold days. You won’t get that for another MLS NEXT Pro team. The early results are really good, and I just want to showcase in the best way possible by playing 100% with a lot of emotion.”

Kuzain cites St. Louis’ rich soccer legacy for the outpouring of support. CITY2 Head Coach John Hackworth agrees, explaining that the city’s soccer history runs deep: a rich immigrant community that brought soccer over with them; six St. Louisans on the U.S. Men's National Team that upset England in the group stage of the 1950 World Cup; St. Louis University’s consistent domination in the sport; the distinguished pro players that call St. Louis home. 

It’s that legacy, Kuzain says, that he’s hoping CITY2 will further.

“Everything that we do is just new history, and will go a long way in keeping St. Louis the soccer city that it is,” he said.

That sentiment is deeply woven into the team’s identity. 

“The community is vital to our overall growth,” Coach Hackworth said. “It’s one of our key objectives. We’re trying to build our playing style based on what we know as a strong and educated local soccer community. All of that is being built within the idea that our club is not just a professional soccer club, but is part of helping this community grow in a lot of different ways.”

Doing that takes a unique and unified group, committed to sharpening their skills—and doing it with passion and high standards. And that’s something Coach Hackworth says Kuzain has in spades.

He’s a versatile player, creative in his technicality, and determined to win. But he’s also a “high character individual,” Coach Hackworth says. And that’s what makes him special. 

“I love his work ethic, he has a strong mentality, and it’s part of who we are,” Coach Hackworth said. “Here we have a highly motivated player who has had some great experiences but still wants to develop and get better and reach full potential.”

For Kuzain, it’s just as important to make an impact off the field. He’s an avid golfer, and enjoys playing FIFA to keep up with hometown friends and former Sporting KC teammates (he even played in an MLS players’ FIFA tournament on Fox Sports One in 2020). But beyond that, he’s committed to devoting his free time to being a resource for aspiring soccer stars.

“I’m just someone that wants to be in the community,” Kuzain said. “I think that’s the best part about being a professional athlete—the impact you can have. I would love to do that here in St. Louis. That’s why I’m always giving 10% extra. I want kids from Carbondale, kids from St. Louis, kids from Edwardsville to know that if they see me, see that I can make it, they can do it and can do it ten times better. At the end of the day, I just want to be a role model.”

Coach Hackworth says that’s exactly what St. Louis soccer fans should know about Wan Kuzain.

“They should know how much it means to him to represent this city,” Hackworth said. “He cares deeply about this community and wants nothing more than to represent its history and do it in a really positive way.”

It’s not an easy mission, but Kuzain knows it’s worth it.

“I remember the first CITY2 game, the anthem was being played and I was kind of tearing up,” he said. “No reason, nothing out of the ordinary, it was just another game and another anthem. But just looking at that crowd and knowing that my parents were there, my friends, my family, and my community, I realized… 

This means everything.”