You can say with absolute confidence that Kevin Vang was destined to play soccer at Providence College.
A Cranston native who holds the distinction as the only Rhode Islander on the 2019 Friar squad, Vang has emerged as a central figure in PC’s quest to advance deep in the NCAA Tournament.
The sophomore midfielder has become a regular in the starting lineup for the Cinderella Friars, who upset #13 Penn State 3-2 over the weekend. (Providence College moves on to face #3 Clemson on December 1.)
FRIARS WIN❕Providence scores three unanswered to advance to the Sweet 16 backed by Trevor Davock’s two assists and game-winner in the 95th minute❕#GoFriars pic.twitter.com/meEwpff89a
— Providence M Soccer (@PCFriarsMSoccer) November 25, 2019
“It feels good and makes me feel responsible, for sure,” said Vang when asked about stringing together starting assignments as if they were pearls on a necklace.
From his days as a youngster playing for Bayside F.C. premier club, to being invited to train as a member with the New England Revolution Academy during his high school years, Vang always seemed to be on the radar of PC head coach Craig Stewart.
“We’ve known him since he was really little,” said Stewart. “I remember the first time I watched him. It was a U-12 game at The Gordon School in East Providence. Even then you could see that he had some things that other kids didn’t. From that point on, he was a guy we always tracked. It was his vision and the way he included his teammates that really stood out the most.”
A 2018 graduate of Cranston East High School, Vang looks back at his time with Bayside and the Revolution Academy with great fondness.
“I had a number of great coaches [at Bayside] who taught me the importance of being respectful on and off the field. At first, they were all about proper technique. As you get older, you learn more about the game and become more technically sound,” said Vang. “With the Revolution, you’re playing against high-level players. It was an environment where everything you did, you made sure to do it professionally.”
Vang didn’t mince words when asked about the perks of selecting a college that’s a short car ride away from his hometown. In fact, you might say he has his own personal rooting section at PC’s on-campus Chapey Field at Anderson Stadium.
“It’s great because my parents [father Kao and mother Chee] can come see me play at home. It’s nice knowing you have family there to support you,” he said.
As a freshman with the Friars, Vang merited enough consideration to start nine of 16 games. Listed at 5-foot-5 and 140 pounds, he recorded two assists and logged 925 minutes on the pitch.
In short, Vang as a first-year college contributor managed to answer the biggest question that hovered over him prior to his first game in a Friar uniform.
“Given his size, probably some people questioned whether his skills were going to translate to the college level. He had to make some adjustments and improvements and he was able to do exactly that in order to compete,” said Stewart. “As his freshman season went on, he started to play more and more. He’s a smart player and was able to figure it all out.”
A central midfielder by trade, Vang found himself flanked out wide during his first year with Providence before moving back to his more traditional position this season.
“PC definitely fits my style. They’re a possession team,” said Vang. “My focus out there is to move the ball forward with the purpose of scoring goals.”
As a known valuable reserve for PC, Vang always seemed to be knocking on the door to merit starting consideration. On Sept. 14 of this year, he scored his first college goal in the Friars’ 4-0 win over Sacred Heart. He’s already exceeded last year’s assist total – three to date – and has attempted more shots on goal this season (five) than he did last year (three).
“Even when he wasn’t starting, he was coming in and playing a key role,” said Stewart. “Our midfield is probably the strength of our team … we have four really good options for four spots. He did what he was supposed to do when he came off the bench.”
If there’s a good omen for PC heading into Sunday’s clash with Penn State, it’s that the Friars are 9-1 in games this season when Vang has had an asterisk appear next to his name – one that signifies that he was a starter.
“It’s about staying focused and reminding ourselves of the mentality that’s helped us get to this point,” said Vang about the challenge of facing the Nittany Lions.
Looking ahead, Stewart firmly believes that Vang has another gear or two inside of him just waiting to be tapped.
“He’ll be one our key returning pieces and we’ll be looking for him to take more of an additional role,” said Stewart. “He has a great demeanor about him and is a big personality. We want to see more of that come out and see him influence the game from a leadership standpoint as well.”
Added Vang, “There’s always room for improvement, whether it’s becoming faster or keeping my fitness up.”