Mumbi Kwesele is an American professional soccer player currently signed to the Richmond Kickers. Growing up in Seattle, Washington, Kwesele went on to attend and play soccer at Barry University. After two successful years at Barry, the crafty midfielder transferred to Humboldt State where he became a star player. Following four strong collegiate years where Kwesele maintained a 4.0 GPA and was named to the All-Conference team while he was a senior, Kwesele moved to Spain and signed with Real Union. Just this past-offseason, Kwesele signed with the Richmond Kickers, boosting the historic club's midfield. Now playing in the USL League One, Kwesele's story shows that with great determination and persistence, you can do anything you put your mind to! A true professional, read our interview with Kwesele below!
The Mumbi Kwesele Interview
1. Growing up, what was your youth career like?
As a youth player, I always had so much energy and I touched a ball every single day. At a time when coaching education and training curriculums weren’t really developed, my improvement came from the time I spent in my yard playing with my brother. We would watch games on tv and then go try to do different things with the ball that we had seen our favorite players do.
2. How were you initially recruited by Barry University?
I was recruited by Barry University the summer of my last year of club soccer when I was playing for PacNW. The head coach, Steve McCrath saw me at the Crossfire Challenge and got in contact with my coach at the time and then things went from there! After a couple months of him watching my videos and giving me feedback, I went on an official visit to Miami and then received my offer shortly after.
3. In your first year with Barry , you logged 1050 minutes, scoring two goals and assisting four more. How was your transition from high school to college?
My transition from high school to college was interesting. Like any player who had a relative amount of “success” at that time, going to college requires an adjustment because rarely does a first year player go into a team and become the centerpiece in a group right away. It takes a couple practices and games to get used to the speed and physicality but once the confidence is there, you take off running and don’t look back so that’s why I was able to have the impact I did my freshman year.
4. After two seasons with Barry, your transferred to Humboldt State University. What was your reasoning behind the transfer?
I transferred because I honestly wanted to become a better version of myself. After a lot of tough reflection, I determined that it would be best to look for a place where I could become the best person, student and athlete possible. For me, this was about becoming the most complete package possible so I had to try to make that a reality.
5. Your following collegiate years saw you become a star, being a consistent and impactful member of the team. What’s your biggest advice for collegiate athletes looking to make an impact on the field?
What I would say to college athletes is to prioritize. I don’t think it would be inappropriate for me to say that there are a lot of “distractions” in college. Whatever you identify as your goal, you have to be willing to sacrifice some things. For me, this meant moving out of a house where I lived with my teammates (at Humboldt) into a place where I was on my own. This allowed me to focus on myself on a level that I hadn’t tapped into before because you’re always influenced by the people you’re around on some level. When I was living alone my life was about doing my homework, resting, training, getting treatment, eating and going to sleep. That was it. And sure, I missed out on some parties and nights going out because I needed to rest. I didn’t waste any energy on anything that wasn’t going to help me get a 4.0 gpa and become an all-conference player, two things that I did in my final year that I hadn’t done before. If you want something different, you have to prepare differently.
6. What’s your most memorable collegiate soccer experience?
My most memorable college experience has to be winning the sunshine state conference tournament with Barry during my freshman year in 2013. To play as much as I did that first year and see a decent amount of minutes in the quarters, semis and final was something I can’t forget. I was proving to myself that I was capable of having an impact if I worked hard and committed myself 100% to my goals. Sitting with that trophy on the bus ride home was one of the most satisfying feelings without question, especially because several months earlier I had lost in the Washington state championship game with my club team, PacNW.
7. Who’s your greatest role model and why?
My greatest role model is without question my older brother, Mutanda Kwesele. He is currently an academy coach with the Columbus Crew. As both a player and a person, he has had the biggest influence on me. He’s 9 years older than me so looking up to him was basically like me trying to envision what I wanted in my future. He went and played in college and professionally so being able to see that journey in person was something that made me believe I could do the same things.
8. After college, you signed for Real Union B. How were you feeling after signing for Real Union B?
When I signed for Real Unión, I felt immense pride to have the opportunity to play for such a historic club. Real Unión was one of the original founding members of La Liga about 100 or so years ago so as an American, I felt honored to wear that shirt. I also felt a great sense of achievement from the perspective of having spent months on trial with the club the previous spring and was living in hostels for months trying to get my chance to sign. It was a long journey.
9. In your first ever professional game with Union, you came off the bench and recorded the game-winning assist. Describe the emotions you were feeling as the goal went in.
When I came off the bench to provide the game-winning assist in my first appearance, it was like some sort of destiny, but to be clear...it was a destiny that I had manifested. The story is that my paperwork wasn’t cleared between the USSF and the Basque and Spanish football federations so I missed the first two months of the season. I kept working hard every day in training, waiting for the phone call that I was cleared. I can’t lie, it was hard not being able to play but I refused to quit. On the weekends when I couldn’t suit up for games, I was on the beach running and working out for hours. I told myself that when I got my chance, I would prove that I deserved to be there and that’s exactly what I did.
10. What was it like to play with a fully-professional top Spanish club?
Playing in Spain was a great experience. I learned so much day in and day out. There’s a great appreciation for the game that I had never experienced before and that made my time there a lot of fun. The learning curve was huge in a lot of ways though because there were a lot of tactical concepts I needed to become more aware of. Once I started to do this, I was able to play multiple positions in my team.
11. From there, how was the rest of your time in Spain?
The experience of Spain was incredible. The food and culture is amazing in so many ways. I really respect how the people go about their lives because there is a real appreciation for taking time to slow down and enjoy time with one another. In the US, time was always flying. When I went to Spain, that was probably the first time in my life when going slower was actually a good thing.
12. What’s the biggest difference you have noticed between American and Spanish soccer?
I would say that the biggest difference between Spanish soccer and American soccer is a better understanding and appreciation of “local” space and “global” space. In Spain, players I played with and against were more fluent in recognizing smaller pictures (local - areas around the ball and small-sides games within the bigger game) and the bigger pictures (global - areas away from the ball and the importance of players not directly involved).
13. Just recently, you signed with a historic club in America, the Richmond Kickers. What did it mean to you to sign for a club you watched as a kid?
Signing for the Richmond Kickers was a surreal experience. To say that I watched them play all the way back in 2005 is really something. When you’re a kid, everything seems possible but very few of the guys I played with or against growing up were actually able to realize this dream. I say that because when I reflect on my journey, it was grit that pushed me through, not overwhelming talent or ability.
14. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your season with Richmond has been delayed. How are you and the team staying fit during quarantine?
The team stays in regular contact with one another through zoom calls and group texts which helps the morale of the guys for sure. We also have weekly workout programs to do so that keeps us busy every day.
15. What are your expectations for this upcoming season with Richmond?
In terms of the logistics of the season, I can honestly say I don’t quite know what to expect. As of today we don’t have a set start date for the season and there’s a lot of other questions that haven’t been answered publicly. In terms of when the ball gets rolling, the expectation is to hit the ground running and start strong. The boys are hungry to get going and hitting the field again is going to be an amazing feeling. The goals we have for this year haven’t changed...we still want to win as many games as possible and fight for trophies.
16. Describe your mentality as soon as you step on the pitch.
My mentality as soon as I step on the pitch is to first and foremost enjoy the game. Regardless of what level I’ve played at, this has been the constant variable. Ultimately, my teammates and I are trying to win. Having said that, the “best” teams I’ve played in were the teams who played a style that was fluid and cohesive.
17. What’s the biggest misconception about being a professional footballer?
I think the biggest misconception about being a professional is that we are superhuman or have qualities and abilities that other players don’t have. It’s simply not true. There are levels for sure, I don’t want that to be misconstrued. However, a big part of being a pro is the confidence and mental fortitude it takes to deal with the ups and downs that come with this journey.
18. What’s your go-to snack on the road?
My go-to snack on the road would probably be Welch’s fruit snacks!
19. In your own words, who is Mumbi Kwesele?
Mumbi Kwesele is a fighter. Someone who has strong convictions and doesn’t give up when faced with adversity.
20. Any last words for the readers?
Everyone please stay safe during this time and take care of yourselves and your loved ones!
Big thanks to Mumbi for the amazing interview! A true professional and inspiration to any baller out there working to become a professional! Keep up the great work, wishing you the best of luck this season!