Kei Kamara’s journey to the MLS Cup has been unlike any player in the league. A native of Sierra Leone, Kamara and his family fled their war-torn home when he was just 16, and as part of a refugee program, found a home in southern California. From there, he played college soccer at Cal State-Dominguez Hills, where he earned honors as a third team All-American. His prowess on the field in college earned Kamara the ninth selection by the Columbus Crew in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft after a two-year stint in the USL with the Orange County Blue Stars.
For the next four years, Kamara would bounce around a number of MLS clubs, moving from Columbus to the San Jose Earthquakes, and later to the Houston Dynamo. While Kamara was a solid striking option, he didn’t exactly set the world aflame during his early time in MLS, scoring just 14 goals in three seasons with three different clubs. It was only when he made his move to Kansas City that he truly began to come into his own as a striker.
Kamara joined Sporting Kansas City in 2009, and immediately fit into Peter Vermes system as a winger, where he thrived for a number of years. In Kamara’s first three seasons in Kansas City, he scored at least nine goals per year, becoming easily one of Kansas City’s most sure-fire goal scoring options. Vermes relied on Kamara throughout the playoff runs made by SKC during those three years, as his dynamic and emotional play style helped propel SKC against opponents.
The Sierra Leone international’s strong play undoubtedly attracted interest from abroad, and ahead of the 2013 MLS season, he was loaned to Premier League side Norwich City. While he became a fan favorite with the Canaries for the heart he brought to each and every appearance, Kamara could muster just one goal during his time in the Premier League, and was thus let go at the end of the season.
However, Kamara’s European dream did not end there, as he was signed by Championship club Middlesbrough following his failed stint with Norwich. Kamara was slightly more effective during his time with Boro, scoring four goals in 25 appearances for the north English club, but because of work permit issues and Sierra Leone’s falling world ranking, he was not signed at the end of the season, leaving him without a club for the first time in nearly a decade.
With the English dream over, Kamara returned to the place where his professional career started, Columbus. He was immediately inserted as a target forward, and the results were simply incredible. Kamara notched 22 goals in the 2014 MLS season, the most of his career and tied for the league lead with MVP Sebastian Giovinco. He not only helped the Crew make the playoffs but scored key goals in both the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals to spur his team on to victory. Now, he has his eyes set on one, singular goal.
The MLS Cup will take place on Sunday afternoon in Columbus, and undoubtedly, many of the eyes in a sold out MAPFRE Stadium will be squarely focused on the play of Kamara.
From Sierra Leone refugee, to MLS MVP candidate, Kamara has played virtually every role in world soccer, experiencing the highest highs, and the lowest lows. He’s faced the pressure and rejection of Europe, while simultaneously experiencing the growth of MLS. But now, he faces the biggest challenge of his career, and his team is counting on him more than ever.
If he can somehow bring MLS Cup to Columbus, his journey will be complete.