This offseason, like always, Kei Kamara returned to his native Sierra Leone. To give back to others, with his Heart Shaped Hands Foundation, and take some time to himself, where he tends to largely cut communication, reset and workout, is important.
This offseason, surprisingly unfamiliar for Major League Soccer's sixth all-time leading goalscorer, Kamara was awaiting updates from his agent about where he'd be playing in 2019, his ninth professional club.
“All the energy I spent playing, trying to help the team grow, help the younger players around me, I felt good that I was going to stay in Vancouver for a little longer," Kamara told MLSsoccer.com. "Even after the head coach was let go, even though he was the head coach that brought me there. Maybe I was reading the energy wrong. When I got the news that they weren’t interested in keeping me and I was being traded, I was shocked.”
After a successful individual season with the Vancouver Whitecaps, leading the club with 14 goals as he helped mentor young players like Alphonso Davies, Kamara was told his services were no longer needed as the club headed into a rebuild. FC Cincinnati selected the 34-year-old second in the Expansion Draft and immediately traded him to the Colorado Rapids.
To many, the nomadic nature of his successful career may be frustrating. But Kamara doesn't see it that way.
“It’s just spending more time with suitcases and hotel rooms,” Kamara said with a laugh. “I look at it as being wanted. I’ve been in the league for a while and it’s not like (I'm) crawling and begging for an opportunity to play. … To me, it’s an honor to say that I’ve played for so many clubs. Other people are looking at it differently, but you have to think about it like it’s work. You work at different places.”
Off to Colorado it is, with his indefatigable enthusiasm, to help turn around a club that finished 11th in the Western Conference last season.
The Rapids didn't catch the league-wide goal scoring wave of 2018, finishing bottom of the league in goals scored with 36, 13 fewer than any club in the West. Kamara is the go-to elixir for that malady, alongside fellow new additions Diego Rubio and his former 'Caps teammate Nicolás Mezquida, who came to the Rapids this offseason in a separate trade.
“One of the assistants, Conor (Casey) who I had played with, told me about the positive structure they have built to put me in the right place," Kamara said. "I’m good with it, I’m really excited. Adding Nico and Diego Rubio, they’re goalscorers, I’m really looking forward to working with those boys.”
Kamara's optimistic outlook is not new.
He escaped a Civil War-torn Sierra Leone to Gambia when he was 14-years-old before moving to the United States at 16 through a refugee program. He spent some time in Maryland before settling in Los Angeles, where he attended college. His roaming life started long before bouncing from club to club, but he chooses to focus on the positive aspects of his career.
“I’ve been blessed, to be honest with you, I’ve been blessed for everything I’ve accomplished as a person and a human being," Kamara said. "I don’t like telling my stories that much, but coming from Sierra Leone in a Civil War then going to Gambia at 14 and the US at 16, going to college in LA then becoming a professional soccer player at 21 … you learn so much on that journey. Scoring a lot of goals on the way, too. I’ve made a lot of friends and family in places."
Again, there are a lot of people who wouldn't consider that upbringing to be a blessed one. There were many different turns where he could have given up, or found excuses. But he persevered and found homes away from home with the fans.
“I am happy," Kamara said matter-of-factly. "A lot of the fans will see that, to me when I have to connect with the fans because when I connect with the fans I make myself at home. Yes I could have crumbled at some point, and blessed is a word that I always use, but I’m strong in that way that there’s nothing to not be happy about. To some people it’s a job, and you still have a job, but I still have my life and what I really want to do.”
Soon, he will familiarize with his new home in Colorado and new fans at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. If the prior eight stops in his career are evidence, don't be surprised to see him celebrating goals with heart-shaped hands and a big smile.