COLUMBUS, Ohio – As crews set up the stage and the Portland Timbers rushed to the south end of MAPFRE Stadium to celebrate their first MLS Cup title with their supporters, Columbus Crew SC’s Kei Kamara sat on the grass in the north end watching a celebration he’s never been part of.
After a long personal journey to the match and a weekend injury that put his status for the game in question, Kamara was spent, and longing for the feeling the Timbers’ players were enjoying.
He watched the celebrations for nearly 15 minutes after the final whistle of Portland's 2-1 win.
“I wanted to sit out there,” he said. “I wanted to see what it feels like to lift that trophy. That’s why I was sitting out there. Those are the things that keep you going, working harder and harder.
“I’ve been there before – not to the final, but in games you really want to win. To me, it’s not just about getting up and walking away. It’s about seeing the other guys and how they feel, what that celebration is like. Because you want to feel that. That’s the feeling I was just soaking in.”
But the Timbers Army wasn’t the only group of fans celebrating. As Kamara sat, the Columbus faithful cheered the name of their target man, applauding one of the best seasons in club history in which he scored 26 goals between the regular season and MLS Cup Playoffs.
“They’ve shown me love from day one, from the first tweet I did saying ‘New Crew, I’m coming to this team,’” he said. “They’ve always shown me love. … The fans have been amazing all year, and I appreciate them.”
Just 24 hours earlier, Kamara’s status for the match wasn’t certain.
The striker went down with a leg injury in the closing minutes of Crew SC’s final training session before the match.
He walked off under his own power, but even head coach Gregg Berhalter wasn’t sure whether he would play immediately after the incident.
Postgame, Berhalter would explain that he eventually found out Kamara wouldn’t miss the match.
“After training when we spoke [with the media], I didn’t have a chance to assess the injury so I think it was made to be more than it was,” he said. “He got stepped on and he had a bruise. He wasn’t going to let something like that stop him from playing.”
Kamara started and played all 90 minutes.
He admitted the bruise had an effect, but echoed his coach’s thoughts. There was no way he was missing the final.
“It was [a factor], but it was all about coming out here,” he said. “I knew right when I stepped on that field that the fans were going to inject energy in me to [not] worry about it. To be honest, I didn’t really worry about it at all. Now, you kind of feel sore. But that was nothing that was going to stop me, even if the doctors tried to stop me.”