Kei Kamara, One-on-One: On nightmares, dreams and the perils of being honest
Kei Kamara is one of Major League Soccer's most outspoken figures, a consistent goalscorer whose tete-a-tete last season with then-teammate Federico Higuain briefly overshadowed what he's done on and off the field.
The 32-year-old New England Revolution striker escaped war-torn Sierra Leone to come to the U.S. as a refugee in his mid-teens, settling with his mother, already in the U.S., in Southern California. Within a half-dozen years, he was in MLS, on a path that would eventually take him to the English Premier League.
He's brash, boisterous and, at his best, brilliant, as when he scored 22 goals, plus five more in the playoffs, to lead the Columbus Crew to the 2015 MLS Cup final.
FourFourTwo USA caught up with Kamara to talk about his future in the game, his experiences during Sierra Leone's civil war and his work to improve the lives of children in his native country, and much more.
FOURFOURTWO: Any satisfaction with your game and this season?
KEI KAMARA: It hasn't been the best season, I have to admit. As a player of my caliber, I'm usually producing a lot more than I have been. So I have to say it hasn't been the best season, considering I feel like I'm at the top of my career, where I can make a lot of things happen.
FFT: What's been most difficult?
KK: The move [last season from Columbus]. I came back from England [in 2015] really prepared and really focused and really ready to win something. I had a good [first] year in Columbus, finishing the year with 27 goals, and, obviously, the move was more of a shock to me. It takes a little bit to get settled.
I've been here in New England, I've been working on it to get settled, and it doesn't work right away. It doesn't happen right away.
FFT: The Revs have so much attacking talent. It's got to be disappointing that you don't score as many goals as a group as you might.
KK: The attacking talent on this team, everybody can score goals. Everyone. So I think it gets to a point sometimes, we all want to score goals.
It's really the unselfishness of players [that's needed], and everyone needs to really click together, so when the right person is scoring, then we know that's the right person who needs to be in that situation. For example, at the moment, Teal Bunbury is a player that's on fire. I'm just happy that I'm able to make runs and do some stuff to put him into position to continue to score those goals.
FFT: Last month you suggested that you might not be the right fit with New England and looked to be traded. Was that spoken out of frustration? Do you still feel that way?
KK: It wasn't out of frustration at all. It's something that definitely was conversed between me and the club. It's something I took up to the club, and we had a good conversation about it.
I still do feel that way. Like I said, I'm a prolific striker, and in my game and my position and how I produce, it just hasn't really fit right with the team. Let me say it again: This team has so much offense, even recently now we have added Krisztian Nemeth to the team.
This team is very strong, and I respect that a lot, and, obviously, that's what I said to them, that I respect that, I respect the club, I respect the fan base, and I feel selfish that I'm not giving the fans what they paid for. Being a goalscorer, everyone wants to see you score goals. ...
I only had four goals at the time I had the conversations with them, and I've had four more since then, but I've barely changed much. We haven't been winning all the games, and I haven't scored, like, 20 goals. Not that I want to be the only goalscorer, but I want to feel like I'm dangerous.
I want to feel like I'm producing for what I'm worth, coming in and really trying to work really hard and really trying to produce to what the caliber and what the expectation was from me, and I'm not seeing that.
KK: Combination of both. It's a place where, as footballers or soccer players, you dream of playing. You know, for me, I've been living this dream [in my life]. It's unbelievable, coming from Sierra Leone and coming to America as a refugee and becoming a citizen of the U.S. and playing in MLS for, what is it, my 12th season now? And being able to have the opportunity to play in England? That's what every soccer player's dream was.
I didn't really see as clearly when it did happen, and that's why I was so fortunate that I went to Norwich and played in the Premier League, just as a loan. I ended up becoming a starter at Norwich, and that taste in my mouth was so good that I wanted to go back to England. Unfortunately, I went back to Middlesbrough, and it wasn't the same taste, because that was the [second-tier] Championship. Things didn't go as sweet as Norwich was.
FFT: Your scoring rate in Columbus, but also in New England, is much better than your scoring rate before going to England. Is that about what you learned in England or your growth there?
KK: That's really how I grew in general as a player. I'm a player that never really went through an academy. So there's a lot of things you didn't learn, and I'm a late bloomer, you know?
I came to America at 16, started going to school at 17, and 18, 19, I'm in college. Two years in college, then I'm playing professionally at 21, so there's are lot of things I really didn't learn.
The longer I play, the different cultures I played underneath, the more I started learning. ... It's too bad it was in my late 20s to finally get into the game and really understand the game and really knowing what your position really is on the field, which is [why] now I'm really feeling I'm at the best point in my career.