BORN TO PLAY
Kyle McLagan was born to be a professional soccer player.
Indoors and out.
After all, his father Doug performed for the original Kansas City Comets a generation ago and his mother Christine competed in NCAA Division I soccer with a very good George Mason University team.
That's pretty good DNA to start out with.
In fact, Kyle has followed in his father's footsteps, playing for the modern-day Comets in the Major Arena Soccer League.
"To wear the same jersey with the same name as my dad, it's unbelievable," he said. "I wouldn't change it for anything."
Kyle, however, has taken his career one step further.
He is a defender with Víkingur Reykjavík, an Icelandic first division club that will compete for a spot in the UEFA Champions League this summer.
"It's unbelievable," Kyle said, adding that it was "a dream come true."
Unbelievable indeed, for someone who was not offered a scholarship to attend college and who endured countless tryouts before finding a home in Europe.
Patience and persistence are probably the best way to describe Kyle McLagan's pro soccer experience.
"He never had it easy," Doug said. "He was very small all the way up to about being a junior in high school. There was a time where he wasn't thinking about college soccer. When he went to Furman, and he was given a roster spot. But I don't know if they really thought he was going to play and then he got an opportunity."
Now 26, Kyle is 6-foot and 165 pounds.
"He just proved people wrong with his determination," Doug added. "That's probably one of his strengths. He just says, 'No, I'm going to do it.' And he did that.
"He's sitting in the top league in Iceland with a chance play in the Champions League. He's one of those that hasn't been given anything. He's fought for it. And that's why we’re really proud of him."
A native of Glasgow, Scotland, Doug played defense and midfield for the Comets in the Major Indoor Soccer League from 1989-91 and with the Wichita Wings a year later.
"I graduated from college and had a couple friends who are already over here," he said. "I just came on vacation and loved it here. I did a little coaching, a little refereeing. I had a friend who played some with the Comets, who had some tryouts."
His friend suggested he should try out.
"I laughed at him," Doug said. "Are you kidding me? No chance. But then I gave it a shot. Got lucky I guess."
A year after retiring, Doug and Christine got married and have remained in the Kansas City area. Doug is a teacher and head varsity soccer coach at Notre Dame de Sion, a private girls’ school. Christine is a medical consultant.
Like many children, Kyle played soccer growing up. He had a unique advantage because both parents competed at a high level. Nothing like having coaches that can train you in your backyard, if necessary.
"They were either playing or coaching and I was out of the field with them and running up and down the sidelines and watching them have games and practices," he said. "Ever since I can remember I was always outside and always had a ball at my foot. Just growing up around it."
Kyle played on a youth team that was coached by Comets owner Brian Budzinski, and that connection turned into a bridge to the MASL for him years later.
He attended Furman University. Kyle joined the soccer team but wasn’t on a scholarship at the start.
"I went as a bit of a question mark, I guess in a sense, as a preferred walk-on," Kyle said. "They weren't sure really what to expect in me.”
McLagan played as a substitute the first four games. One of the team's center backs went down with an injury. Kyle stepped in and never left the lineup. He eventually earned a scholarship.
"I went in as a bit of an underdog, got a bit lucky to get my opportunity early and jumped on it," he said.
Kyle started 14 matches as a freshman in 2014 while earned All-Southern Conference freshman honors. Two years later, he also received 2016 first team All-Southern Conference accolades before graduating in December 2017.
Bolstered by his college experience, Kyle graduated early, earning a business degree and deciding to pursue a pro soccer career.
He attended several combines and tryouts with USL teams, but never was offered a contract.
Kyle, however, never wavered from his quest.
"I kept telling myself it was very much in the cards," he said. "A lot of this profession is about timing and just having the right opportunity at the right time. At all the trials that I went on with USL Championship teams, it was like, 'We think you're good enough. We think you could play here, blah, blah, blah. We think you can do this.' That's what kept me going. I knew I could play at that level.
"It was a lifelong dream. I knew that if I gave that up and went through a desk job, I would regret that for the rest of my life."
While Kyle stayed with his aunt in Dallas and playing for the Fort Worth Vaqueros (National Premier Soccer League), Ajax Soccer Tours held a nearby combine.
"I thought I'd missed the window for the window for the USL," he said.
It's funny how life turns out. Kyle didn't think he had a good tryout, but an assistant coach from FC Roskilde liked what he saw. He was asked to go on a two-week trial in Denmark. There were two weeks remaining in the season and the team was fighting relegation.
"I was thinking, it's going to be rough," he said. "I'm going into a relegation team. These guys are just going to be thinking, 'Who the heck is this guy? Why have they brought him in at this time of year?' I was preparing for a bit of a hostile environment. But it was not the case. Everybody was super welcoming and super nice. At the end of the two weeks, they liked me, and we started talking about a contract.".
Kyle played at Roskilde for two seasons from 2018-20. A Furman teammate of Kyle's brother Cole helped open the door for him to play at Fram Rekjavik, which was striving for promotion to the Icelandic first division. Last year Fram set a league points record and didn't lose a game, but opted to sign with Vikingur. A potential place in the Champions League was part of the enticement.
During a preseason match last week, he scored his first goal for Vikingur, which starts its campaign on April 18.
"I'm loving it so far," he said. "It's a little bit of a higher tempo than last year, a little bit better quality. I feel a part of the team now. I feel like I'm good enough and I'm ready to get the season going."
Ditto for Cole, who recently signed a contract with Sporting Kansas City II, which will play in MLS NEXT Pro. Cole performed with the Greenville Triumph (USL League One) in 2021.
No sibling rivalry here. The brothers text and talk on a daily basis.
"I'm super excited for him," Kyle said. "To represent Kansas City is one thing and to be able to play in front of your friends and family week in and week out, it's something different. I hope he really gets his opportunity this year. It's awesome.
"I was trying to get him to go on a little European adventure with me and maybe come over to Iceland or see if I can find him a team in Europe. But that didn't work."
Needless to say, Doug McLagan is proud that both sons have been able to pursue pro careers, although he thought it was a long-shot. Not that they didn't have the talent, but because so few college players have opportunities to live their dreams.
"I knew they were going to play soccer because that's what we do," he said. "But I would be lying to you that I knew they were going to play pro. It's a small percentage of people that do it. A lot of it is timing and being at the right place and the right coach. I was hoping that they were going to have a good D-I experience, play some soccer and then move on. I did not expect this."
So now Doug and Christine can watch Cole play close to home. They also are planning for an Iceland trip to watch Kyle in Champions League qualifying.
"We have not been to Iceland yet," Doug McLagan said, "Really looking forward to everything I've heard. It's a beautiful country. We would like to see him play. Hopefully, we'll head out in July, me and the missus and go see and play at least one, maybe a of couple games."
Thanks to his long-standing relationship with Budzinski, the Comets owner, Kyle was able to play some with the MASL side the last two seasons and follow in his father's footsteps.
During the shortened 2021 season, Kyle suited up five times for Kansas City, scoring once and assisting on four goals. He returned to play five games this season, recording three goals and an assist before rejoining Vikingur.
"Growing up we played in the Soccer Dome, which is where the Comets train,” he said. “I had a little bit of background in indoor, not quite at that level of pace," he said. “It was a little adjustment period, relearning the game. [Defender John] Sosa and Leo [Gibson [player-head coach], they just read the game so well. They know exactly where the ball is going off the wall. I've thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Comets."
It also was an opportunity to play in front of friends and family and represent his hometown team.
"I loved my teammates last year," Kyle said. "I really enjoyed that group of guys. I felt like I had to go back to that. … I'd rather be with guys that are like playing a game that's fun vs. running on a treadmill. When you bring all those three together, it's a no brainer."
And here's some good news for Comets fans: You haven’t seen the last of the McLagan family just yet. Kyle said that he plans to return to the team to play some in 2022-23 between Iceland seasons.
"My new club approved it so I don't see any reason they would have an issue with it going forward next year," he said. "Brian and I text a fair bit. I think it's 100 percent in the cards. Let's see, knock on wood, how the season goes to plan and stay healthy."
But first things first. Before he puts on a Comets jersey again, Kyle McLagan has a few goals of his own - to ensure Vikingur's season is a success and take his A game to Champions League qualifying this summer.
"I've watched Chelsea play in the Champions League," Kyle said. “Just to say that I've played in Champions League and Europa League, maybe, in European competitions is something that I'll definitely cherish for the rest of my life."
Michael Lewis, the editor of FrontRowSoccer.com, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at Michael@FrontRowSoccer.com. His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, was published this week. It can be purchased at https://tinyurl.com/2p8rzhpy.