SBI Spotlight: Henry Kessler primed for big 2021 after standout rookie season

SBI Spotlight: Henry Kessler primed for big 2021 after standout rookie season

Henry Kessler is coming off a sensational rookie season in MLS with the New England Revolution, and stands poised to deliver an even better encore after earning a look on the international stage.

Kessler is currently in Mexico with the U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team for a training camp that will determine the 20-player squad for Concacaf Olympic qualifying. The 22-year-old earned his first chance with the USMNT in January and now has a chance to keep the international momentum going by earning a starting role in Olympic qualifying.

“It was a great experience to be a part of that camp for the first time,” Kessler told SBI. “It’s interesting to see how they want to play against different pressures and teams. Gregg is a really hands-on guy so a lot of information is coming from him and Jason (Kreis), who are both good guys to work with. I enjoyed the experience.”

Kessler excelled as a rookie in Bruce Arena’s squad in a shortened 2020 campaign, earning a starting role in the Revs backline emerging as one of the best rookies in MLS. The New York native now prepares for his second MLS season, a new chance to continue his development as a professional player and potentially help the Revs take the step from playoff team to legitimate title contender.

“It was a good year for me personally, I met my expectations and I think I exceeded others expectations,” Kessler said. “I set the bar pretty high for myself so none of this was surprising to me, but it may have been surprising to others. I wanted to be a guy that was competing for a starting spot and I did that from the start of the season all the way through the playoffs. That was my expectation and I’m glad that ended up being the case. It was a good year and I think this year will be even better.”

After a three-year collegiate career at the University of Virginia, Kessler lived up to the expectations pegged on him as the No. 6 selection in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. He totaled 26 appearances for the Revolution in both the regular season and playoffs, helping the Revs make an impressive showing in the playoffs.

Not only did Kessler help the Revs sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs, he helped them finish one victory away from a place in the eventual MLS Cup Final. Kessler was one of many young faces in the Revs defensive corps, joining Tajon Buchanan, DeJuan Jones, and Brandon Bye, but it was seasoned veteran Andrew Farrell who placed high expectations on him after first impressions in preseason camp.

“He’s very measured, he’s very thoughtful about how he’s going to answer a question,” Farrell said about Kessler on the SBI Show. “When I first saw him on the field, I saw the size, he had long legs, a really good passer of the ball and aggressive. The biggest trait though is his competitiveness, he is trying to win in everything whether it’s in practice or in a match.

“I knew about what he did at Virginia and obviously Bruce knew more than I did,” Farrell said. “I told him from Day No. 1 that I think he can play for the National Team. He’s been a great addition to our team and I expect him to play for the full National Team someday and do big things.”

Kessler thrived in a starting role despite the challenges brought on by three-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, retaining his spot when the regular season resumed with the MLS is Back Tournament.

Kessler earned the trust of his teammates and coaching staff throughout the season and finished as a nominee for both MLS Defender of the Year and Young Player of the Year. He also earned his first inclusion in the January USMNT camp, though he ultimately did not make the matchday roster for the USMNT’s 7-0 friendly win over Trinidad & Tobago.

After ending his first season with major confidence, Kessler remains focused on a new goal of returning to the playoffs and hopefully picking up some awards along the way.

“A lot was learned and I had a lot to learn so maybe this year it won’t be as much to learn, but I still plan on improving and hope to make strides,” Kessler said. “I hope to carry on what I did last season, being nominated for a few awards and helping the team. I hope to bring home a few of those awards this time around and take my game to the next level.”

“It’s a really good group of guys,” Kessler said about the Revs squad. “Last season we were very close to be playing for an MLS Cup and I feel our roster is even stronger than that this season. I think the additions we’ve made are good, I still have to meet some new faces, but a lot of these guys I’ve seen play whether its in person or on television. There’s no reason to not believe we can’t get back to where we were last season.”

Kessler is now preparing for the 2021 season to get underway in Foxborough as the Revs aim to make a deeper run in the MLS Cup Playoffs. While his mind remains on MLS, the defender hopes to get his chance in Europe, following in the footsteps of many other American players who have made the jump overseas.

“The goal for now is the Revs, but it is a dream of mine to play in Europe and  in one of those top five leagues,” Kessler said. “That’s been a dream of mine as a young kid. My main focus though remains on New England and to have an even better year than 2020 finished.”