Postcard from Europe: Ex-US int'l Hill ready for new path
AMSTERDAM — Kamani Hill has been a second-team player for four years now and he's had enough of it. Having agreed to a contract buy-out with Vitória Guimarães last week, the oft-forgotten US international is ready to change the script on his career.
The 25-year-old attacker from Berkeley, Calif., was unable to make a first-team dent in two years with the Conquistadores. Tired of banging at the reserve-squad glass ceiling, Hill decided to negotiate a release from the final year of his Guimarães deal in order to seek his place elsewhere.
"It was clear to me it was going to be very difficult to advance my career this season had I stayed," Hill told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Tuesday. "I had some great moments this past year, both in trainings and unofficial matches — however, I felt the work I put in went unrecognized by the staff of the club. The decision to move on came because I want to find a more positive working environment and be able to contribute to my team on a week-to-week basis."
That is something Hill has not done since the spring of 2007, when he made nine promising Bundesliga substitute appearances for Wolfsburg. After that season, he earned his first two — and to date, only — USMNT caps. However, the tide had already turned against him in the Wolves' den.
Three days before Hill's US debut in a 4-1 friendly rout of China in front of friends and family in close-to-home San Jose, Calif., Felix Magath arrived to take the Wolfsburg reins. The new manager was handed a big transfer kitty, and long story short, the American ended up only vaguely noticed over his final two years in Volkswagen Arena.
Apart from five games on loan with Portuguese second-flight club Aves last season, he then saw no action at Guimarães. Still, Hill says he has not let all that idle match time in Portugal go to waste.
"I learned a lot working with the players at the club, both technically and tactically," he said. "I feel very much improved since my arrival two years ago. I'm hoping now that I can have the opportunity to show the experience I have gained from being exposed to this level of football on a day-to-day basis."
As it so happens, Romanian top-flight side FC Braşov are doing their preseason in Portugal this summer and opened a three-game friendly slate Guimarães.
In the midst of a major squad overhaul, Braşov have thus far plucked a half-dozen players out of Portugal. Hill is now bidding to be the latest in that line. The UCLA product started his trial late last week and worked the second half in Sunday's friendly loss to Beira Mar and hopes to see more first-team chances.
"The Braşov experience is going well," reported Hill. "As a free agent, I'm hoping that taking part in these games will open up some options for me in Europe."
He's not married to the concept of playing on the continent, though. Hill worked out with the San Jose Earthquakes last summer and says Major League Soccer is always on the table — even if it seems a little complicated to a league newbie. As a player with international experience, Hill would enter the allocation lottery for returning USMNT players.
"I am also seriously considering coming to the MLS," he stated. "I have been in contact with a couple of coaches that have expressed interest in me. However, my understanding is that I will have to enter the league and have my team determined through the lottery process, so that makes things a little more unpredictable."
Of course, the unpredictable may now be Hill's best friend. At the least, it's the best one he's made over four years.