Cade Cowell: “I see myself like Mbappé” – Benji Kikanovic: “I would love to play” for Bosnia

By FPL360


Exclusive interview 

The San Jose Earthquakes will face FC Dallas on MLS Decision Day on Sunday. It is a game without consequence for the MLS Cup Playoff race as both sides can no longer qualify for the post-season. Nonetheless, it is a game worth tuning into as it will showcase four of the most interesting young attacking players of the 2021 Major League Soccer season. Plenty has been written about Dallas’ Jesús Ferreira and Ricardo Pepi. The two Dallas stars have somewhat overshadowed the Quakes’ Cade Cowell and Benji Kikanovic, but both have the potential to become superstars in MLS and beyond. 

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San Jose Earthquakes


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Dec 31, 2021

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Dec 31, 2021

Full Player Comparison

This week Transfermarkt sat down with Cowell and Kikanovic to discuss their first entire season in MLS, what it has been like playing with legendary striker Chris Wondolowski, their respective national team, and club futures, as well as their friendly competition with one another. Finally, the two might reveal whether Cowell or Kikanovic is the fastest player at the Earthquakes.

“It is very disappointing,” Cowell said when asked about the Earthquakes missing out on the playoffs. “I could have done more, 100%.” Cowell was deemed one of the players to watch this season, a potential rookie of the year. Five goals and five assists are an excellent turnaround for an 18-year-old in his first professional season. But Cowell is quick to admit that he was disappointed about his productivity. 

“I just started off so well, and then it just ended like that,” Cowell said. “The hardest thing was that I had to work even harder and get more results, and it took me a while to get back into a positive mindset.”

Cowell in the top 10.: The most valuable USMNT center-forwards

10. Jeremy Ebobisse | €2.5 million | San Jose Earthquakes

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9. Ricardo Pepi | €2.5 million | FC Dallas

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8. Cade Cowell | €2.5 million | San Jose Earthquakes

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7. Jesús Ferreira | €3 million | FC Dallas

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6. Gyasi Zardes | €3.5 million | Columbus Crew

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5. Matthew Hoppe | €4.5 million | FC Schalke 04

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4. Jordan Siebatcheu | €5 million | Young Boys

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3. Josh Sargent | €8 million | Norwich City

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2. Daryl Dike | €10 million | Orlando City

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1. Timothy Weah | €12 million | LOSC Lille

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Kikanovic: From Sacramento State to Major League Soccer

Kikanovic has a bit of a different perspective. “For me personally, it has been good,” Kikanovic said. The striker has scored four goals in 16 games this season. But it was not until the second half of the season that the 21-year-old California native with Bosnian roots would establish himself in the first team. 

Perhaps the difference in perspective comes from the path the two forwards took to MLS. Cowell was one of the youngest players to receive an MLS contract when he signed as a 15-year-old. The forward is considered one of the hottest prospects in US football, and his new market value, which will be published next week, will reflect the increasing interest the forward has received from Europe. 

Not much was expected from Kikanovic. The forward played two years at Sacramento State of the Big West Conference. He was scouted by the Earthquakes and signed to their now-defunct USL Championship affiliate Reno 1868 FC as a projectable striker with size and speed. He played one year there before joining the MLS team in 2021.

The different paths to the pro-levels would also explain the different perspectives on the 2021 season. “A lot of other people took a different path compared to me,” Kikanovic said. “But when I was going through this whole process, it was just kind of focusing on my journey and my journey only not getting my head somewhere else where it shouldn’t be because, at the end of the day, everyone has their own path. I think it’s made me stronger mentally, which I think is really important when you make it to this level.”

Cowell on Wondolowski: “An honor” to play with the legendary striker

That mentality helped Kikanovic at the start of the season when he waited for his opportunity with the Earthquakes. Once head coach Matías Almeyda unleashed him, it started clicking quickly, with Kikanovic regularly starting over the last 11 games scoring four goals in the process. 

It was also during that stretch that Kikanovic was able to take significant playing time from Cowell. Not that it hurt their friendship. “We have a very good relationship; we always mess around with each other,” Cowell said. “It is really good because it makes me compete for a spot, and I’m sure he competes just as hard with me; we just bring each other’s level up. It is really fun.” 

That friendly competition can only be good news for the Earthquakes. It is not quite clear yet whether San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski will return for the 2022 MLS season. The 38-year-old striker leads the all-time MLS goalscorer list with 168 goals scored in the regular season.

“It’s an honor,” Cowell said when asked what it has been like playing with Wondolowski. “He’s still scoring goals whenever he wants. It is very cool to see that every day.” Kikanovic adds: “He just does the simple things right. A lot of high-level players, when they do the simple things right, everything else comes to them naturally. So for me, just seeing him at training and especially his competitiveness and his work ethic. I think it plays a huge role in how well he’s done in his career, and he’s still doing to this day.” 

Although they both admire Wondolowski, both Kikanovic and Cowell quickly pointed out that they were different players. “If there is any player I compare myself with, it is Ibra (Zlatan Ibrahimovic),” Kikanovic said. “I see myself like Mbappé,” Cowell said, pointing out his speed and ability to play several roles upfront. 

Kikanovic admires the Bundesliga and “wants to play” for Bosnia 

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In an ideal world, those attributes will be combined next season upfront for the Quakes, potentially filling the void that Wondolowski could leave behind should he choose to retire. Both Kikanovic and Cowell, however, left the door open for a potential move abroad. While Cowell admires the Premier League, Kikanovic sees his future in the Bundesliga. “I think Germany would be good, especially for an American player,” Kikanovic said. “I know a lot of them have gone over there and have been successful.” 

The Quakes, of course, have options for the next three seasons, and they control the forward’s destiny. The same is the case for Cowell. Any potential move would, therefore, involve a significant transfer fee, especially as Kikanovic will also receive a substantial bump in his market value next week. 

“I know I am not at that level right now,” Cowell on the US men’s national team.

What both players can control is their national team future. Here Cowell is fully committed to the US men’s national team. “I know I am not at that level right now,” Cowell said when asked about not being called up for the latest World Cup qualifiers. “I will be ready soon.”

USMNT – World Cup qualifying roster for November games

Goalkeeper: Zack Steffen – Manchester City – Market value: $6.6m

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Goalkeeper: Matt Turner – New England Revolution – Market value: $2.75m

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Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson – New York City FC – Market value: $1.98m

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Defender: Chris Richards – Hoffenheim – Market value: $8.25m

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Defender: Antonee Robinson – Fulham FC – Market value: $7.7m

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Defender: Mark McKenzie – KRC Genk – Market value: $5.5m

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Defender: DeAndre Yedlin – Galatasaray – Market value: $4.51m

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Defender: Joe Scally – Gladbach – Market value: $4.4m

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Defender: Reggie Cannon – Boavista – Market value: $4.4m

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Defender: Miles Robinson – Atlanta United FC – Market value: $4.4m

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Defender: Walker Zimmerman – Nashville – Market value: $3.85m

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Defender: Sam Vines – Royal Antwerp – Market value: $3.3m

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Midfielder: Weston McKennie – Juventus FC – Market value: $27.5m

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Midfielder: Tyler Adams – RB Leipzig – Market value: $22m

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Midfielder: Brenden Aaronson – Red Bull Salzburg – Market value: $11m

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Midfielder – Gianluca Busio – Venezia – Market value: $7.7m

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Midfielder: Cristian Roldán – Seattle Sounders FC – Market value: $5.5m

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Midfielder: Jesús Ferreira – FC Dallas – Market value: $3.3m

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Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta – Colorado Rapids – Market value: $3.3m

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Midfielder: Paul Arriola – D.C. United – Market value: $3.3m

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Midfielder: Sebastian Lletget – Los Angeles Galaxy – Market value: $2.75m

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Attacker: Christian Pulisic – Chelsea – Market value: $55m

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Attacker: Yunus Musah – Valencia – Market value: $16.5m

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Attacker: Timothy Weah – LOSC Lille – Market value: $13.2m

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Attacker: Ricardo Pepi – FC Dallas – Market value: $2.75m

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Kikanovic, in the meantime, sees his future elsewhere. “Yes, it is,” Kikanovic said when asked whether playing for Bosnia-Herzegovina was a possibility. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen. But I would love to play for them. … They never talked to me, but it’s in my heart to play there. It’s my culture, and it’s just different. 

Cowell and Kikanovic could therefore face each other at a World Cup one day. Their competitive spirit would undoubtedly lead to an exciting matchup. After all, the two might be friends, but they also like to best each other. For example, either one claims that they are faster than the other. But Transfermarkt has been told that that particular claim by both players will be settled in a race at the end of the season. 




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