The arrival in Chicago of goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm -- the newest member of the Men In Red -- is the story of a journey come full circle.
Born in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to an American serviceman father and a German mother, Kronholm's early life saw him return to Germany as an infant and quickly ascend to the professional level as a teenager upon discovering his enthusiasm for goalkeeping. Now, after 15 years plying his trade abroad, Kronholm has returned stateside to continue his career in Chicago.
Kronholm sat down with Chicago-Fire.com at the Blackstone Hotel in downtown Chicago to tell the story of his multinational heritage, his navigation of the German soccer pyramid, and his excitement for the new opportunity in front him.
Chicago-Fire.com: You were born in Virginia to American and German parents. What’s the story on your return to Germany?
Kenneth Kronholm: “It’s a classic story. My father was with the army in Heidelberg, Germany, and met my mother. My mother came with my father to Virginia to get married. My brother was born. I was born. Then, my mother came back to Germany because she had a better job, so after two weeks in America, I was going to be a German boy (laughs). After a couple years, I was four or five, my mother went back to America because of the job, and my grandmother said, ‘No this boy is staying here.’ So I grew up with the rest of the family in Germany and I liked it. I liked it a lot. I had everything there - my friends, some soccer places around our house - so I started to play soccer. I went to Wolfsburg when I was 16, so I left my house in Germany in the south and went to Wolfsburg in the north. That was the start of my career.”
C-F.com: Did you return to visit the U.S. often while growing up in Germany?
KK: “I visited my mother when I was maybe 12 just for the summer vacation for six weeks. We visited Florida and Walt Disney World for a couple of days, and that’s it. I was always happy when I came back to Germany at that moment, because I wanted to play soccer in Germany. It’s a good league with a lot of good teams, so I wanted to do it that way.”
C-F.com: What drew you to goalkeeping when you were young?
KK: “I always wanted to be a goalkeeper. I started my sporting career as a child with handball. My grandfather was a national keeper in that sport. He played three times for the German national team. Every picture in our house, my grandfather was built up. It was normal. I was going to be a goalkeeper too. I like it. I’m a little bit crazy like every goalkeeper in this world, so I love to play in goal.”
C-F.com: At what point did you realize you could play professionally?
KK: “It was a crazy time. I started playing with a team in goal when I was 14, and when I was 16 I changed to Wolfsburg as a professional. When I was 14, I didn’t even know what offside was. In those two years, so much changed with my body, with my thinking about the sport. It went quickly.”
C-F.com: You spent time at several teams in the early stage of your career. What did you learn about yourself during that time?
KK: “A lot. I was learning a lot. I had so many teams, and at every team I learned something new. Something new from a goalkeeper coach, from a head coach, from my teammates. The most important thing in my job is my head, so you always have to be strong. If something goes wrong, you still have to be strong. I liked that time. I liked every mistake I made and every good thing, every good save. It was a very important time for me to change to so many teams when I was young.”
C-F.com: You now arrive in Chicago after spending five years at Holstein Kiel. What are your top memories of your time there?
KK: “Incredible time. The last five years were amazing for me. Everything went the right way. We went up from the third division to the second division. It was the greatest success for Holstein Kiel in 36 years. I’m proud to have been a part of this team. It’s a good club. Now I can feel it in my body that this change to Chicago is the right decision for me.”
C-F.com: How did your initial conversations with the Fire begin?
KK: “It started with Pauno (head coach Veljko Paunović). Pauno called me seven or eight months ago in November and asked me if I could imagine changing to Chicago and leaving Germany. In my second or third sentence I said, ‘Yes, of course. Let’s do this.’ I wanted to come to Chicago. I like our coach a lot. I like his mentality. I like how he speaks to the team. It’s the right decision for me to be here.”
C-F.com: Being part American, how much did you know about Chicago prior to your arrival?
KK: “I didn’t know anything (laughs). The last days have been a great experience for me to live here in this beautiful city. I’ve got almost no experience with the USA. In 2010, I was on trial at Seattle Sounders. It’s also a great city, but it didn’t fit because Kasey Keller was still in goal, and that’s OK. It was OK for me. It took nine long years to come back to the U.S., to Chicago, and I want to do it right.”
C-F.com: What were your first impressions of the city?
KK: “My first impression was the skyscrapers. I was picked up at the airport and it was dark outside. We got close to the city and I could see the skyscrapers by night. Coming from Germany, there’s skyscrapers in Frankfurt, but it’s far away from my home. It’s amazing. An unbelievable feeling. Now I live downtown, so I want to feel the city.”
C-F.com: How has the reception been from your new teammates so far?
KK: “Super. Perfect. I can only say positive things about my teammates. Everybody is happy. They talk to me and I’m feeling good when I come to training. Everything is great.”
C-F.com: What can Fire fans now expect from you when they get a chance to see you on the pitch?
KK: “I want to help my teammates in every situation I can. I want to say not too much, just come to the stadium and watch our games and hopefully they’ll be happy.”
Kronholm and the Fire celebrate German Heritage Night against New York City FC this Saturday, May 25 live on Univision and Twitter at 2:30 p.m. CT, presented by AT&T.