With one swing of his foot, Kevin Paredes smashed his way into elite company.
What a swing it was, though, as it led to Paredes' first Bundesliga goal. As the ball bounced out towards him at the top of the box, Paredes lashed out with his left boot, driving a shot right into the bottom corner.
When the ball hit the back of the net, Paredes became the latest American to truly make his mark in the Bundesliga. He joins the likes of Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Josh Sargent as American teenagers to score in Germany's top flight.
Now, the question is how long it will take Paredes to join that group of World Cup veterans as a regular with the U.S. men's national team.
Paredes looks like he may just be the latest American star to use the Bundesliga's winter break as a springboard, just as Pulisic did in 2016 and Reyna in 2020.
Heading into the start of 2023, Paredes is looking like he could be ready to become a regular with Wolfsburg, having slowly climbed the ranks since joining from D.C. United last winter.
After featuring twice last year in his first half-season with the club, Paredes has become a bigger part of Niko Kovac's plan this term. He's made 10 appearances for the club with nine coming off the bench, including last week's goalscoring appearance in a 2-1 loss to Werder Bremen. In the game prior, he provided an assist in a 6-0 thumping of Freiburg.
Paredes' recent surge comes after what seemed to be a productive winter break that saw him score in a friendly against Hoffenheim, having returned from an injury suffered in the lead up to the World Cup break.
What makes Paredes so interesting is his versatility. The 19-year-old can play anywhere along the left side, from left-back right up to left-wing. That makes Paredes a weapon for Wolfsburg, who actually deployed him centrally as they tried to push back in that loss to Werder Bremen.
That versatility comes because Paredes does so many things well. He's comfortable defending and has a good work rate on that end of the field. On the attacking end, he's more than comfortable on the ball. He's got a good left foot and, if the last few weeks have shown us anything, it's that he's getting more comfortable in the final third. Physically, he looks ready for the speed and physicality of the Bundesliga.
Prior to departing D.C. United, Paredes said that his role model is another MLS product, Alphonso Davies, and the Canadian star's similar ability to play all over that side of the field gives Paredes someone to look towards. He may just go head-to-head with Davies this weekend when Bayern face Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga.
“Ever since then I was like: ‘OK, this is a really good player that maybe I can start shaping my play around,’” Paredes told MLSsoccer.com in 2021. “Then once he got put into that left back role and moved to Bayern, I’ve been following him, following his tracks, how he plays, how he defends.
“He was an attacking player at Vancouver and in the academy before that transition to left back, sort of the same position I’m in currently right now in the process of going to that more defensive role.”
Internationally, Paredes likely projects as a defensive option for the USMNT, whether as a left-back or a left-wingback. That position, coincidentally, is one of need, with Antonee Robinson the clear-cut starter and youngsters like John Tolkin and George Bello among the backups. Fellow Bundesliga star Scally, meanwhile, has featured there and can play on either side.
Gregg Berhalter told him as much in 2021, although a new coach may think differently going forward.
“We were just discussing positions and [Berhalter] said he could see me as our left-back in the future for the national team,” Paredes said in 2021. “I was really surprised, being in his eyes part of the future was a dream come true. But he said left back position and I was like: 'Hey, I'm an attacker! But if that's where I'm going to get minutes then no problem. I'll play there.' He's been such a big help.”
For Paredes, a path toward the USMNT seems relatively clear. At 19, he remains eligible for the U.S. U20s and could play at the U20 World Cup. In 2024, he could be a key member of the Olympic team in Paris as the U.S. makes their return to the world's top U23 competition. Somewhere in that mix, he's likely to get his first USMNT cap as the program looks to integrate new blood on the road to the 2026 World Cup.
But all of that depends on his development at Wolfsburg. He's certainly made an impression since the league's return, but the next step is to get a consistent run of games. Paredes isn't a starter yet, and he still has work to do to earn the trust of Kovac, who was frustrated with the young defender for picking up a late card in the loss to Bremen.
If there's one place that can be trusted to develop young American stars, though, it's the Bundesliga. And Paredes looks like he's next in line on the German top-flight's seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of American stars.