Sun, Sep

By now Kevin Jeffrey shouldn't have anything left to prove.
For three years he was the Richmond Kickers most reliable attacking player. He was first in goals with 20 in 2001. He teamed with Josh Henderson to carry the team to the A-League finals in 2002. He followed that with highs in goals and points for second-team all-league honors in 2003.

But this has been, at best, a difficult campaign for the 29-year-old striker from Trinidad. After starting the first eight games, he found himself in an unfamiliar role, one he hadn't experienced as a pro much less as a junior college player of the year or in two All-Colonial Athletic Association seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Jeffrey went from first 11 to second five. He found himself riding the pine. In 12 games, he started three and didn't get on the field in two. Jeffrey played a total of 30 minutes in two games against Virginia Beach. He appeared four minutes in a 2-1 victory over Montreal.

"Sitting on the bench, you learn a lot about yourself," Jeffrey said. "You learn patience. It tests your team spirit -how you deal with it.

"Are you cheering the guys on? Or are you moping? Are you crying? It's an all-round test outside your natural habitat in terms of playing every week. Now you don't know if you're going to play or not. Whatever the coach decides you've just got to deal with it."

Kickers coach Leigh Cowlishaw, as always, is reluctant to address all the reasons for Jeffrey's unaccustomed lack of playing time. It wasn't anything the player said. He wasn't in Cowlishaw's dog- house. Still, the numbers don't lie. For more than a month and a half, you could say Jeffrey's boundless energy was going to waste.

"There are seven or eight variables that go into a decision, and it's not productive to analyze it that way," Cowlishaw said. "Generally, KJ started off slow. I don't think he was the KJ we knew."

Although Jeffrey arrived for preseason training in good shape, Cowlishaw thinks spending the winter months playing back home in Trinidad as a defensive midfielder affected Jeffrey's timing. "He was fit. I wouldn't say he was sharp."

Also, perhaps for the first time since he became Kickers coach five years ago, Cowlishaw has an abundance of talented forwards. Rookie Matthew Delicate was the club's most dangerous player early. Then fellow VCU alumnus McColm Cephas went from reserve to starter and wound up leading the team in scoring. Career scoring leader Rob Ukrop came off the bench to make the difference in several games including a 35-yard game-winner.

Life as a reserve finally ended after Jeffrey got the golden goal in three minutes of overtime work July 14 at Toronto. He's started 11 of 12 games since then including the past 10.

From Toronto on, the swift, clever Jeffrey has six goals (three game-winning) and four assists. Last Sunday, in the regular-season finale in Montreal, a corner kick by the 5-11, 165-pounder set up rookie Clyde Simms for the only goal the Kickers needed in a 2-0 whitewash of the usually-stingy impact.

"I didn't like sitting on the bench," Jeffrey said, "but 'futbol' is a universal language, and I understand how things work. I knew I would get my opportunity, and when I got it, I had to show I deserved to be out there," he said.