Kerr’s European Flair Not a Foreign Matter for Newport Harbor : Boys’ soccer: Sailors become adept at setting up scoring opportunities for junior forward, who spent two years playing in Scotland.
Two years in Scotland haven’t changed Newport Harbor forward Justin Kerr’s appearance, dialect or taste buds. He didn’t come back wearing a kilt, speaking Gaelic or craving haggis and shortbread. He’s not even very fond of golf, Scotland’s national game.
But watch him play soccer for a minute or two, and suddenly Kerr appears more Scottish than American. His intensity, emotion and instincts for the game seem almost out of place on a high school soccer field in Newport Beach.
On this day, Kerr scores three goals against neighborhood rival Corona del Mar. And after each goal, his screams of joy can be heard several fields away.
“His attitude when he plays is different now,” said Ryan Hoover, who has played with Kerr on a club team and at Newport Harbor. “You can tell he’s played foreign because he’s more serious.”
He also has become more serious about scoring than anyone in Orange County. Though he has missed five games because of torn ligaments in his left ankle, Kerr has scored 18 goals for Newport Harbor, which has won 14 of its first 21 games and is having its best season in years.
Newport Harbor Coach Colin Bouette, who was born in Hamilton, Scotland, but moved to California at 4, said Kerr’s style of play is distinctly European.
“His job is basically to score goals,” Bouette said. “He’s picked up the knack for that. Scoring is 80% of knowing what to do when you don’t have the ball. And Justin knows what to do with it and without it.
“He’s also learned not to hold the ball much. Back in Scotland, if you beat a guy once too often, he’ll spend the rest of the game getting back at you. He’s also learned how to play with emotion. We had a talk after the Corona del Mar game about him playing with too much emotion.”
But Kerr didn’t always play with emotion or confidence, and he wasn’t always a scorer. When the Kerrs moved to Edinburgh two years ago so Justin and his brother, Lucas, could broaden their cultural horizons, Justin nearly gave up on soccer.
He spent his first year playing sparingly for Timecastle Boys Club, an under-15 team of the Timecastle Harts professional club.
“I didn’t play much and I lost some confidence,” said Kerr, whose great-grandparents are Scottish. “I got down in the dumps and I wanted to quit soccer for a time. When I would get a chance to play, I’d be all rusty.”
Kerr also had a difficult time adjusting to the physical style of play.
“In practices, I’d get pushed off the ball all the time,” he said. “You can’t hold onto the ball over there for more than five seconds without getting thrown down. I realized that a lot of these guys were playing for their future . . . to be seen by a professional club. And I was just playing for fun.”
He also was attending a private school and that didn’t sit well with his teammates, who mostly attended public school.
Kerr returned home for the summer and regained some confidence playing for the Orange Coast United Club team.
The next season in Scotland, Kerr switched teams and played for Glen Park, which was in the same division as Timecastle. The change did wonders for Kerr’s game and his statistics.
He scored 31 goals in 16 games and was named the team’s most valuable player.
“I did well in my first practice for Glen Park and things just went well from there,” he said.
Kerr’s parents gave him the option of returning to Edinburgh for his junior year, but he missed his friends in Newport Beach too much to return for another cold and rainy year. But Lucas, 13, didn’t miss Southern California enough to come back.
“He’s a big rugby star over there,” Justin said of his younger brother. “I tried that once, but I didn’t like it.”
What Kerr likes is his situation with Newport Harbor, where he has some of the best setup players in the county feeding him the ball close to the net. Forward Alessio Smith and halfback Dom Frantantaro are two of the most highly recruited players in the county, but until this season they had no one to set up.
“We’ve never really had a great scorer here,” Bouette said. “Some kids would rather have the assists, other people just love to score. Justin will fight off anyone to get that ball, including his teammates.”
Kerr said fighting was part of the game in Scotland.
“Half of your team comes off the field with bloody noses and bruises,” he said. “A guy’s cleat cut my chin open over there, and they didn’t even stop the game. Over here, I’d be in an ambulance.”
Kerr said he hasn’t ruled out a return visit. He scored in the top 1% of his national test in business studies, which he said qualified him for admittance to Cambridge or Oxford.
“I miss it. It was perfect for me for two years,” he said. “I got a good taste of it. I got to travel around Europe. But the weather got to me. I missed playing soccer a lot because the weather was so bad. I probably saw the sun for maybe 30 days over the two years I was there.”