This week in our Person of Interest series, we bring you a player who’s spent time in the past on the fringes of youth national team prominence, but whose star may be on the rise. Orrin McKinze Gaines, a 16-year old attacker from Texas, had a good month of March for the U17s during the squad’s two friendly matches against the Seattle Sounders U17/18 team and against the University of Portland men’s soccer team. After a 30-minute cameo in the first match, he earned a start against Portland and found the back of the net three times (one of which was assisted by last week’s POI Nick Taitague). Let’s take a look at Gaines a bit more — anyone who scores a hat-trick, especially a kid against older competition, deserves a bit of a look.
Gaines was born in 1998, and has played since the age of nine for Lonestar SC, a U.S. Soccer Development Academy based in Austin, Texas. Lonestar’s a club with some recent success; some of the more prominent alumni include Kekuta Manneh, who scored 7 times for the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, as well as 2014 MLS Superdraft picks Travis Golden, Kris Tyrpak, and Michael Lisch. Gaines joined the U.S. Residency Program earlier this year, and scored his first goal in a U.S. shirt in a 5-2 Aegean Cup win over Norway.
If you’ve been following this series of posts closely, you’ll know that Gaines has some stiff competition in his age group, particularly in the front part of the lineup. (See, e.g., Joe Gallardo and Haji Wright, both of whom have been scoring goals in bunches.) And, from time to time, many of his fellow U17 teammates have been linked to youth academies abroad: Wright to Germany, Gallardo to Monterrey (officially), Christian Pulisic with everyone. It’s a sign of Gaines’ quality that he’s able to play — and succeed — in competition with some of these names, and if he can’t continue to fit into the lineup with them, the U.S.’ youth future looks bright, at least for the next few years.
So who is Gaines, when he’s on the pitch? He’s a slender 5’9″ who plays striker for his club, but is also capable of playing on the wing. (In fact, he played both right and left wing in his hat-trick scoring performance against the University of Portland last month.) He’s got a nose for goal, and for finishing. Check out his goal against Norway from January. A header, off-balance and from some distance, but with power and accuracy:
Or this gliding, graceful, and well-placed finish, from his hat trick against the University of Portland:
He’s a finisher, this much we know. And he runs on the ball well. Where might he be able to improve? From what we’ve seen and heard, his off-the-ball activity will need to improve — for a striker, half the battle (or more) comes from learning to be in the right place at the right time. He’ll also need to get stronger, but that goes without saying — he’s only 16 years old.
Oh, and here’s an interview (interspersed with in-game footage) of this week’s Person of Interest, Orrin Gaines. Keep an eye on him — if he keeps scoring for the youth teams, it may well be a sign of a strong future for the kid.