Kei Kamara contributes both scoring and leadership to Vancouver Whitecaps

PORTLAND, Ore. – With four goals in his last five games, Kei Kamara is both literally and figuratively leading the Vancouver Whitecaps as they climb up the Western Conference ladder.

Fueled by timely goals and a “bend but don't break” defense, much of Vancouver's run has been predicated by their ability to earn points on the road. The ‘Caps are 3-2-1 in their last six league matches, including a 3-2 road win at Chicago, a 2-2 draw at New York City FC and Saturday’s 2-1 win over Portland at Providence Park, which broke the Timbers’ 15-game unbeaten run.

"We went to Houston earlier in the season, and disrupted their record there," Kamara said after Saturday’s victory, where he scored the opener. "We went to Columbus and did that and we did it again [tonight].

"We came, we knew what their record was," Kamara continued. "[Sometimes what] it's all about in soccer is, you kind of want to spoil the party for someone else."

The 33-year-old Sierra Leone international now sits on 108 career MLS goals, but as Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson say, it's the striker's leadership and mentality that truly sets Kamara apart.

"We've got so many young players in and around him," Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said of Kamara. "I needed a leader when Fredy Montero left last year; it was important I got a leader in that sort of role.

"He's been phenomenal. He really is a joy to work with."

For Kamara, his role is simple.

"Whatever I can do to help the boys, that's what I'll do," he said.

Off the field, Kamara has kept the team loose, whether it's photo-bombing teammates during interviews or establishing himself as a locker room DJ with eclectic tastes.

“I love Kei to bits," Robinson said. "As you get to know him as a person, he’s a very colorful character. He enjoys his dancing – sometimes bare naked and stuff like that. You just have to get to know him and I’ve certainly gotten to know him."

While Robinson admits he and Kamara don't always see eye-to-eye, Robinson says there is a mutual respect between the two. The result: a fully invested Kamara who has risen to the challenge of being the on-field leader Robinson believes he can be.

On his 14th-minute goal in Portland, Kamara said he wasn't looking to score at first.

"I was looking to play the ball across," Kamara explained, but when he noticed out of his peripheral vision that Timbers goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was off his line, he adjusted, and flicked the ball into the back of the open net.

The only starting ‘keeper in MLS with a goals-against average under 1 (0.87), Attinella is having a sterling season, but was helpless to stop Kamara's header.

“We watched a lot of film, so I knew the ball was going to Kei," Attinella said of the goal. "I wanted to come out and try to help that cross and do what I can to try and win that ball, but those are the types of things that happen. I misread it. [Kamara] got up there, won the ball and unfortunately for me I was out of the net."

As Kamara sees it, the Whitecaps have momentum. And while that is something to be coveted, he and Robinson see it as Kamara's duty to educate and remind his teammates that it’s only one element of a successful run to, and into, the postseason.

"We’re playing for one thing," Kamara said. "Going into preseason we knew that we wanted to make it to a cup final, and that’s the position that we’re going for right now.”