At the start of 2019, 17-year-old Charlie Kelman was signing his first professional contract with EFL League One side Southend United. Fast forward to September, Kelman is second on the team with three goals in all competitions this season.
The former FC Dallas academy product is coming off his best league performance yet this season, scoring the game-winning goal in Southend’s 1-0 road win over MK Dons. It was the club’s first league win of the season, one in which Kelman got rewarded for his hard work coming back into the first-team side.
“The early part of this season has been frustrating for the team, but to get the first win was important,” Kelman told SBI. “Coming back into the team from international duty is always tough, but luckily I was able to help the team in my return. As a group we just have to kick on from here and keep moving up the standings.”
“There is no better feeling than scoring and that’s what I am best at it scoring goals. Anytime I am on the pitch I want to find the back of the net, where I am on the wing, at striker, or maybe in midfield. If the team gets a result then it’s even better, but I am trying to do what I am paid to do.”
Like many other American players, Kelman made the move to Europe as a kid and is now working his way through the ranks of first-team football. Born in England, Kelman spent time as a child in Texas, being a part of FC Dallas’ academy which has produced current European-based players such as Weston McKennie and Chris Richards.
After moving to Southend, Kelman had to work his way through the youth ranks before getting a shot with the senior team. After scoring a combined 61 goals in 2017-18 between the Under-15’s, U-16’s, and U-18’s, Kelman got his first taste of senior minutes last season. His debut vs. Plymouth Argyle saw Kelman score a wonder goal from midfield before eventually the forward got his first start at Blackpool a few weeks later. It’s moments that he still remembers like it was yesterday.
“The best part so far has to be making my first start for the club last season at Blackpool,” Kelman said. “The goal vs. Plymouth is definitely a good moment too, but anytime you can make your first senior start for a club is special. I’ve grown up very quickly because you have to meet certain standards if you want to remain a professional footballer. I want to enjoy myself and my career and make my family happy.”
“I’ve always dreamt of becoming a professional footballer and kids my age they’re going through college and everything like that. I still have to pinch myself sometimes and remember where I am at this stage of my career. I’ve been very committed over the last few years to get where I am and I know I still have room to grow as a professional. I will always continue to work to get better and work on to bigger and better things.”
Kelman’s positive performances in the second-half of last season rewarded him with starts in both League One and the EFL Cup this season. He scored a brace in Southend’s 2-1 road win over Stevenage in the opening round of the tournament, his first as a senior player. Since then, Kelman had to wait in the wings, but his productive start caught the eye of U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team head coach Tab Ramos.
Ramos rewarded Kelman with his first U-20 call up this month, for friendlies against the United Arab Emirates and Croatia. Despite also being eligible to represent England, Kelman enjoyed the first taste of being with the U-20’s and is eager to continue his development in order to get more National Team notice.
“Tab’s a quality coach and person,” Kelman said. “He took the time to speak with every player there whether they were new to the group or someone coming back from before. He’s a top guy and he told me to keep working hard and keep doing what you do best and you never know where it’ll take you. The next stage for me is to keep pushing at club level and hopefully get back in with the U-20’s.”
Kelman is one of four current players in the division, which is led by experienced Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch. Like Gooch, Kelman is fighting for consistent minutes in a tough division, but has goals to his name so far this season. Being able to produce like Gooch at this level is a huge positive for Kelman’s confidence, while also working with several veteran talents at his current club.
“It’s quite hard because some people look at League One and think it isn’t the Premier League, when really it’s just as difficult,” Kelman said. “It’s a scrap to get out of League One and to even avoid relegation. It’s not an easy league. When you see fellow Americans do well in League One like Lynden Gooch with Sunderland it makes me believe in myself even more because we both have scored goals here.”
“The senior players here also been a huge help to me and they’ve been through what I’m going through. Simon Cox is a former Premier League player, Mark Milligan is the captain of Australia and has played in four World Cups, and Jason Demetriou is the captain of Cyprus, so they all have loads of experience. Working with them showed me things that you don’t get at the academy level. It’s been nice of them to put me under their wings so far.”
Southend is currently in the bottom three of League One with four points through nine matches. Kelman’s performance last weekend helped the club move closer to the red line and another win this weekend could see them jump out of the relegation zone. With 35 league matches to go this season and possible promotion playoffs also an option, Kelman is optimistic about his future and the club’s this season.
“Personally I want to keep scoring and putting in good performances for the team,” Kelman said. “I’m hoping to keep earning consistent minutes. As a team, we want to earn as many points as possible and avoid any drama at the end of the season. Our caretaker manager [Gary Waddock] has brought us together and I think after coming off our best performance of the year it should help us going forward.”