By JOHN BOSCHINI
Just by looking at him, it's a little difficult to believe that Ryan Kinne is one of the best forward prospects in the nation. Standing at only 5-foot-8 and weighing about 160 pounds, Kinne isn't the stereotypical big and physical American striker, but the Monmouth striker is one of the country's most dangerous players and has helped transform a small school into a national power.
Kinne's speed, combined with a steady finishing touch and a knack for free kicks, is the driving force behind Monmouth's rapid rise to national prominence.
"I'd like to think that I'm pretty quick," Kinne said. "I mean, you don't have to be the biggest guy in the world to play soccer. Some of the best players in the world are small. Guys like Lionel Messi."
Monmouth wasn't originally at the top of Kinne's list. He had instead planned to go to South Florida to join up with an assistant coach from his club team, but chose instead to play for the Hawks and head coach Robert McCourt.
"They have a great program and they have a great climate down there but Coach [Robert] McCourt came in and I loved his personality and I loved the way he coached," Kinne said about his Monmouth coach. "I wanted to get away from the cold but I'll live with it. We play soccer here, some schools just put their big, athletic guys up front, bypass the midfield and just go long but we keep the ball on the ground and that fits my style of play."
The partnership has worked out well so far. Kinne scored 23 goals in his first three seasons with Monmouth and has already notched five goals and provided three assists through the first six games of 2010. The Hawks are up to fourth in the NSCAA poll and are legitimate contenders for a national championship. A massive turnaround for a team that has never made it past the second round of the NCAA tournament and were perpetually finishing below .500 as recently as 2005.
Kinne says being a giant in a mid-major like the Northeast Conference can do more harm than good. "Every week is like a cup final for us," Kinne said. "If we were in the ACC we might get a little more leeway but if we lose it sets us back for an at-large bid. It puts a huge target on our back and we know we're going to get everyone's best shot. No game is going to come easy when you're number five in the country."
Although he's open to other professional opportunities, the MLS seems most prominent on Kinne's radar. "The MLS teams have a ton of talent now and the soccer is much better to watch, it's easier to watch," Kinne said, who credits Thierry Henry as a childhood idol. "You see foreigners wanting to come over and play in the United States because the soccer has gotten so much better."
For now, Kinne is focused on continuing to play well and helping Monmouth prove that it is a serious program worthy of its lofty ranking.
"We know our results are legit and we know we can play with the bigger schools," Kinne said.