Following the conclusion of the 2009 season, Wizards striker Kei Kamara seemed destined to continue his career outside of Major League Soccer.
Kamara spent the offseason in France, Germany and Greece hawking his talents on the European market. He received his fair share of offers, and he weighed his options.
But in the back of his mind, Kamara couldn’t shake the thought of the culture change that he witnessed under the leadership of manager Peter Vermes during the two-plus months he spent in Kansas City at the end of the season.
“I looked at a couple places,” Kamara told MLSsoccer.com. “I had pretty good offers, but it was all about knowing where they wanted to take the team. I wanted to be part of something like that, and hopefully that’s the road were on right now.”
Months later, it’s looking more and more like Kamara and the Wizards are squarely on that road. The 25-year-old striker has two goals in two games, both game-winners in home victories against D.C. United and the Colorado Rapids, and Kansas City has six points and the look of a playoff contender.
Even though Kamara arrived in Kansas City last season in mid-September during a period in time when the Wizards’ fortunes weren’t bright, it was clear to him even then that Vermes’ vision and drive were transforming the team’s mindset.
“I saw the desire,” Kamara said.
Vermes saw plenty he liked as well. Though Kamara only scored once for the Wizards in six games, he tallied five goals for the Houston Dynamo in 22 matches before the trade. It wasn’t a groundbreaking haul by any means, but was still the promising young striker’s most productive season in MLS.
Europe was tempting, but in the end Vermes’ conversations with Kamara during the offseason helped convince the Sierra Leone native that the best place to continue developing and growing his game was Kansas City.
In Kamara, the Wizards get a physical, battling presence up front that it doesn’t get from its other attacking players who rely more on guile such as Josh Wolff, Davy Arnaud and Ryan Smith. But besides his obvious physical attributes, the versatile Kamara also has plenty of skill and a penchant for wearing down opposing defenders with his direct, aggressive style of play.
“He is committed to being an attacking guy,” Vermes said, “which is really good. Mentally, he’s straight. He knows what he wants to do. He wants to score goals, and he knows that’s going to benefit the team.”
And while Kamara’s prefers to talk about his recent scoring exploits in light of the team’s successes, there is no denying that both benefit him as well. Although he’s comfortable in MLS for now, like all players, Kamara dreams of plying his trade in Europe.
To get there, he knows he must harness his potential and continue to learn about the game and the preparation it takes to succeed as a professional.
“I saw to myself that I’m going to be a sponge this year, and soak in everything that they tell me,” Kamara said. “When its time, squeeze it and apply it out there.”
So far so good. The ball is going in the back of the net, and Kamara is adapting his game both offensively and defensively in order to keep his place on the field.
Against Colorado, he frustrated the Rapids on the right wing for most of the first half before moving into the middle and making life so difficult for the defense that Julien Baudet was eventually given a straight red card for an unsporting challenge.
Kamara even ventured back into defensive half late in the game to clear ball after ball and prevent the Rapids’ from stealing a road point.
And while it may not be Europe, Kamara is comfortable in his surroundings, and he’s showing a dynamic side to his game that few in the league possess. For Kansas City, the results have been nothing short of ideal so far.
“He’s a monster in there,” Vermes said, “and that’s what we need at times.”