It was the morning of August 17, a summer day like so many others. Pat Straw drove over to Bronx State Park, adjacent to the Bronx Psychiatric Center. He walked through the trees and bushes that hide the soccer field.
Straw arrived early for the season’s first practice, 30 minutes before he expected any players to show up. There was already someone there, cleats laced up, ready to go.
It was Simon Kim, the last person the coach expected to see at that time.
“That told me,” Straw recalled delightfully, “we were going to be for real.”
As predicted, Kim and the Lions have sat atop PSAL Bronx A from start to finish, the senior striker leading the division with 10 goals and has added two assists. He scored both times in a confidence-building, 2-0 victory Sept. 13 over defending champion Columbus. Center midfielder Sam Aghahowa called him “the biggest aspect,” of the attack.
“Although the catalysts were Sam and [midfielder] Maxi [Berterame}, with Simon up top, and if he was committed 100 percent, we were going to have somebody who could finish,” Straw said.
Kim didn’t just show up late for practices the previous two years, he was often a no-show, busy with a tutoring job to put extra money in his pocket. He enjoyed a fantastic freshman season alongside his brother Jay, scoring 12 goals, including three in the playoffs to lead the Lions to their first ever PSAL CLass A city championship game.
But when Jay left, Kim changed. His interest in the sport waned, along with his passion and intensity. He said his older brother not being there took away a lot of his competitive spirit and fire. Good friend and teammate Dillon Milton said he wasn’t trying, at least not like he had as a freshman.
His numbers dropped dramatically his sophomore and junior seasons, Kim finishing with just six tallies altogether as Lehman languished. He butted heads with Straw over the missed training sessions, and was seen as aloof by teammates, like he didn’t care.
“They thought he was selfish,” said Straw, who often didn’t start Kim, but almost always put him in, hoping the player he had such high hopes for would return. That player never appeared, often winded or lacking crispness because of the lack of practice.
“I talked to him every day and we fought every day,” Straw said.
There wasn’t one moment that changed everything for Kim. There was no epiphany, or loss that reinvigorated him. He credits Milton for the turnaround. A joker and team clown, Milton frequently talked to Kim about their senior season, from the end of last fall to start of last summer. At those times he never joked, always asking for him to give it all, to take advantage of their last year together.
“It was one of the few times he sounded very serious,” Kim recalled. “I felt like me not focusing was letting down so many people. I’ve know Coach for such a long time, I’ve know Dylan for such a long time. Now I’m saying ‘no, no’ all the time. It’s stupid, not taking advantage of the ability I have.”
He gave in, and joined the team for pickup games at Pelham Bay Park in the summer. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the game of soccer was calling him, dragging him back. The missing passion had returned. The night before the first practice, he could hardly sit still or sleep, like a kid the night before Christmas.
“Usually I think about summer practice as some type of hassle – I would never want to go – but I remember that night, I was excited. I was calling friends about it,” he said.
Since that day, Kim has only gotten better. He has played unselfishly but aggressively, aided by Lehman’s best team around him since his freshman year. Evander Childs coach Toma Gojcevic was impressed with how well Kim worked with his teammates, his speed and level of skill with the ball on his feet.
“He seems a lot hungrier then he was in the past,” Gojcevic said. “He’s more motivated.”
Straw has been more taken with Kim’s maturity, on the field and off. Although he isn’t a team captain, he has become a silent leader, speaking up when the time is right.
Kim sees this as an opportunity, for himself, his coach and his teammates. It is his chance to pay everyone back who never gave up on him, who defended him, to make up for two lost years.
“I guess I was at my peak my freshman year,” he said. “I feel now is the time to raise up again. It’s my last year.”
“It’s such a good feeling. When somebody asks how we’re doing, I have so much confidence in our record. … One of the things I always dream about was doing something Lehman has never done. My freshman year we went to the championship. The only thing left is to take the championship.”