How the Sounders' Kim Kee-Hee became the club's most well-known unknown player
SEATTLE - Kim Kee-Hee joined Seattle Sounders FC in February of 2018. He quickly worked his way into the lineup, starting in all but one match this season. In doing so, Kim has become the most well-known, unknown player for the Rave Green.
What does that mean, exactly?
Kim is still a mystery to many fans, in part because there is a language barrier. The South Korea native is a transplant in the Seattle area, and is still learning to live life on and off the pitch in a foreign country. Korean-American Q13 News reporter Hana Kim teamed up sports reporter Michelle Ludtka to tell his story.
Sounders FC fan's are the first to tell you that since joining Seattle, Kim's play on the field has done all the talking.
"He's a guy who likes to keep the ball on the ground," said Sounders defender Kelvin Leerdam.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei adds, "he's a big guy but he's very very mobile, very athletic."
Now in his eighth season as a professional soccer player, Kim spent time in the Chinese Super League, as well as the top flight division in South Korea - where he won two league titles - and has made 32 appearances with his National Team.
To find out more about Kim, we invited him to share a meal with us at Girin in Sodo Seattle.
Kim tells us the first time he saw a soccer match, he was hooked. It was 1998 and Korea was taking on powerhouse Mexico in the World Cup. He was nine years old. Fast-forward 14 years, and Kim is now the one representing his country in the Olympics.
He's says the fact that they earned the bronze medal was the highlight of his career. It was the first medal Korea had ever won in the sport.
We tried to immerse ourselves in Kim's culture, sampling Korean fusion foods, and asked him what he misses most about this home country. Kim says "the delivery service," because in Korea you can order anything you want and have it delivered at any hour of the day.
While we as soccer fans see Kim Kee-Hee the player, the center-back is also a husband and a father to two little girls. Kim admits it's difficult for him and his family to be new to the area.
"For basic things, it's OK," he said. "But anything detailed, for example, if my children got sick and I had to take them to the hospital and I had to explain what is going on - It's those things that are the most challenging."
But he appreciates the work-life balance in the United States.
"For the kids, I like the education system here, in my opinion," he said. "Also, life is more slow paced here and I think they can benefit from that."
Kim is only the third Korean to play in Major League Soccer and when he came to American he had very little knowledge of the English language.
Still, he and his teammates quickly figured out how to communicate.
"Sign language most of the time," Leerdam said. "I know even for me it's difficult when you want to say something quickly and you can't find the right words. Then it's easier to point and I think that is the easiest way to go. Point something out and we will find each other in the middle. Yeah, so that's how we do it."
For soccer players, language barriers are nothing new. In MLS, 75 countries are represented. But for the Asian American community in Seattle, this is something new.
"I'm so happy he's here because I'm from Asia," one Sounders fan said. "He's from Asia!"
"I have been wanting Sounders, please bring some Korean players, please bring some Korean players. I didn't know it was him. My friend who works for Sounders, he said, 'Oh yes we got some Korean player you know that you need to help out' so I say, 'oh really?' and he asked can you do it so I was jumping up and down. It's an honor, such an honor to translate for Korean player," explains Kim Byoung-Hwan, Kim's translator and friend.
And the feeling is mutual. Kim says the fans are electrifying.
"I was on the sidelines when I first came to a game," he said. "I saw a packed stadium and the fans clapping. It gave me chills and it motivated me to play harder so I could get on the field."
That was seven months ago. Kim since has earned his starting spot on the back line and tells us he hopes it's just the beginning to a great career in Seattle.