Commerce City, Colo. - New Rapids forward Kamani Hill has learned a lot since leaving a talented UCLA side in 2006. The 26-year-old American has played professionally in the top league in both Germany and Portugal, and played with the U.S. National team. But despite his resume, he realizes he still has a lot to prove - to himself and others.
"I'm hungry," Hill told ColoradoRapids.com Thursday after his first practice since signing with the team. "I want to have the chance to be on the field, to show people that I've been playing and been developing, even though it’s kind of been behind the scenes."
Back in 2006, the soccer world presented great opportunities to the California-native. After a trial period with German Bundesliga side Wolfsburg, they signed him to a multi-year contract. The next year he reached another pinnacle when he made his debut with the U.S. Men's National Team, playing in friendlies against China and Sweden in the summer of 2007.
However it's not been all that smooth since.
After many reserve games and few first team appearances with Wolfsburg, he moved Vitória S.C. of Portugal's top flight in 2009. But the coach that brought him there was fired even before the season started. The next coach was fired a month later. In all, he had four head coaches in just his first year at Vitoria, but he stayed on through each of their roster changes – though rarely playing.
In 2010, he was loaned out to Aves of the Portuguese second division, but the playing time still wasn't there. Last August, he negotiated a buyout and was free.
"At the end of the day, I got a lot out of it," he says of his time in Europe. "It was a great experience for me. Just to be in that environment was so crucial for my development as a player. I feel like I'm 3-4 times the player that I was when I went there."
He trained with the San Jose Earthquakes until the end of the 2011 season, at which time his agent had told him that Swedish side Hammarby was interested.
He flew to Sweden for a two week trial in November and was given positive feedback and invited to preseason by the assistant coach, who was running things until the new coach arrived. Preseason was to start on January 5, 2012. On January 1, he received an email from Hammarby's new coach, former LA Galaxy defender Greg Berhalter, telling Hill that the club was going to go in a different direction.
For Hill, who had seen rosters changed weekly and coaches come and go regularly, he took this news as just another part of his profession.
"The reality of the business got engraved in my character and professionalism, because I have such a better understanding of how things work," he said."
Last month he received a call from Rapids Technical Director Paul Bravo – Hill’s assistant coach at UCLA - saying the team wanted to take a look at him. He arrived on March 13 in good shape.
"As you grow older, professionalism becomes more of a habit," Hill said. "And when you go through so many ups and downs, you just know you have to stay fit because that's the only thing that can really come back to haunt you."
At 6' and 170 pounds, Hill has been used all over the field with every team he's played on, which he feels has possibly worked against him since he's not been able to focus or show himself in one area. But during his trial, the Rapids were only looking at him on the offensive third.
"I really see myself as an attacker, where ever it may be: on the right, the left, or the midfield," Hill said. "I see myself as somebody who can help the offense."
That's exactly what Oscar Pareja saw in him which led to the decision to try to sign him.
"Kamani is a player who is technical and brings a lot of flexibility up top," Pareja said. "We can use him on the wings, or at center forward, or to play behind the center forward."
The Rapids were interested, Hill was interested, but one final piece remained before he could join the team.
In the eyes of Major League Soccer, as a former youth national team player he had to be made available to all MLS teams through the weighted lottery process, rather than the Rapids claiming him through the discovery process.
Since no other MLS team saw him play this spring, the Rapids were were the only ones to enter the lottery and claimed him. It was a relief to Hill, who appreciated the faith the team showed in him by giving him a chance.
"I'm so happy to have another opportunity and to be here with the Rapids," he said. "I want to show that I definitely am a much better player than I was as a youth player and even with the national team in 2007."
He's no longer thinking of Europe, and a return to the national team is a distant thought at this time.
"My mentality is getting in this team, and performing and helping this team," he said of the Rapids. "That is what opens the doors to have other things happen, but if I'm not in the team, not gelling with the guys, not working well with the coach, other things don't happen."
His time may come sooner than he may realize.
"He brings a lot of energy and is a player who has a lot of experience abroad, and we're hoping he can that use to benefit this team," Pareja said. "He's lacking rhythm and competition, but we think we can accelerate that process a little bit so he can help the team as soon as possible."