Midfielder Kenney Walker is a linchpin of FC Cincinnati's success and playoff hopes

CINCINNATI -- A cement wall separates the coaches’ office from the team locker room at Nippert Stadium, but FC Cincinnati’s staff hears the most boisterous players loud and clear.

Kenney Walker’s voice stands out.

“He’s the person we hear laughing most on the other side of the wall,” coach Alan Koch said. “He’s very, very serious about his job but he likes to have a good time, too.”

The glimpse into Walker’s camaraderie with his teammates is a microcosm of his time in Cincinnati. The 28-year-old midfielder has a decorated soccer resume, from four years with the L.A. Galaxy to a robust college career at Louisville, and for the last two seasons he has served as the linchpin of the Orange and Blue’s efforts by virtue of his position and moxie.

Teammates are well-versed in the personality behind the player, like Walker’s love for Great Danes (he has two: Mowgli and Baloo, of “The Jungle Book” fame) and his sunscreen allergy. He wears long sleeves and athletic tights under his shorts during daily practices to protect himself from the sun -- a seemingly uncomfortable style on a 90-degree day.

FC Cincinnati midfielder Kenney Walker keeps Richmond’s Patrick McCann from stripping the ball. (E.L. Hubbard/WCPO Contributor)

“When I was out in L.A. for four years, I was wearing tights, long sleeves and all that stuff, so I’m used to it,” Walker said. “I tried pure aloe on my hand and it kind of left scars. It didn’t blister but there were bumps. After that I was like, ‘That’s it.’ I think this year I’m going to go to a dermatologist and see if I can wear (any type of sunscreen) or not.” 

The good news is that FC Cincinnati plays largely in the evening, like Saturday’s 8:30 p.m. match at St. Louis FC. It’s a pivotal outing for the Orange and Blue, which have struggled to maintain consistency on the road and are starting a four-game road swing that will shape their destiny in the United Soccer League playoff picture.

FC Cincinnati blanked St. Louis at Nippert in April (4-0) and June (2-0) and owns a 4-0 series lead. Koch said FC Cincinnati’s most recent match, a 4-2 victory over the New York Red Bulls II in a regular-season home finale, was pivotal in terms of providing a burst of confidence in training before heading to Saint Louis. 

“Guys feel pretty good about themselves going and getting three points and winning a big game against New York,” Koch said. “So we’ve taken that in a positive way and I think we’re building on it. That should give us a little bit more confidence going into the game. Having said that, we know St. Louis is a very good team. We’ve played them here twice and to be quite honest, we played very, very well both times.”

Walker was a key cog in both victories. Aside from his early season absence with a sprained right meniscus, he has provided steady support all season to the Orange and Blue’s endeavors. He’s the team leader in assists with six, good for ninth in the USL, and his contributions are so impactful that Koch said he could be the USL player of the week “every single week.”

Walker did receive the honor Tuesday after contributing his season-first goal plus two assists in the win over New York. 

Walker found Austin Berry on a corner kick in the fifth minute, and Berry headed the ball into the right corner of the net for the 1-0 lead. Walker found Harrison Delbridge for a score in the 67th minute, and then scored himself on a free kick five minutes later.

“He obviously got (player of the week) this week because he got all the stats to back it up. But his job is the job where it’s very difficult to score goals and get assists. I’m very, very happy for him that he got rewarded with an individual reward, but he does that same job for us every single week,” Koch said.

Walker isn’t much into individual accolades and prefers to put the team first. As one of the inaugural players on the Orange and Blue’s roster, he’s eager to see what the franchise can accomplish, especially after such a strong debut. 

Kenney Walker keeps the ball away from New York Red Bulls II's Florian Valot. (E.L. Hubbard/WCPO Contributor)

“I didn’t expect for it to be where it was last year as fast as it did,” Walker said. “And then we were kind of -- not worried -- that this year it wouldn’t be as good as last year or get better. But it’s gotten better. The fan base, all that stuff, coaching staff, front office... people would strive to be what we are now if we were looking in three years ago. This would be an ideal, a perfect situation.”

To extend this season, which has featured record crowds and milestone wins, Walker said FC Cincinnati must create its own environment and mentality on the road and feed off both to sustain momentum down the stretch. 

That suits Walker’s competitiveness and intensity just fine. It’s only after each match or practice that he’ll let down his guard. 

“I’ve taken things so seriously on the field that it’s like ‘let it go, relax, just have fun,’” Walker said, smiling.

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