Of all the interactions between the legends and the current squad, surely none was as anticipated as the comingling of Kei Kamara and Stern John, the only two men to score 20 goals in a single season for the Black & Gold. John scored a club-record 26 in 1998. Kamara entered that night with 21.
The two encountered each other outside the locker room as Kamara made his way into the stadium. They then met up again inside the locker room when Berhalter introduced the legends to the team.
“The funny thing is,” Kamara said, “I told McBride, ‘Don’t worry. I’m not here to break any records’ and McBride told me, ‘Don’t talk to me! Go talk to Stern about that!’”
“I just tried to tackle him in there,” John joked at the press conference, moments after the locker room visit. “It’s great. To see a fellow footballer obviously trying to break your record is really good. I think he’s been doing really well. I wish him all the best. I hope he breaks the record.”
“That’s NOT what he said earlier,” Brad Friedel retorted to everyone’s amusement.
Two other legends weighed in on Kamara’s historic 2015 campaign during the press conference.
Brian McBride called the signing of Kamara a genius move and a perfect fit for Gregg Berhalter’s system.
“You can see just how confident he has grown,” McBride said. “It’s not just about him scoring goals. He does a lot of work. He makes some really good runs opening up parts of the field. On top of that, when you get in a rhythm scoring goals, I think he’s had an exceptional season. He’s taken his chances well.”
Alejandro Moreno played with Kamara in Houston during the first part of the 2007 season, when Kamara was in his second year as a pro.
“Seeing him now, in 2015, there is a great maturation process and personal growth you see in Kei,” Moreno said. “There were great physical abilities and attributes that were there and evident in 2007, but that didn’t always translate into results on the field. A lot of it had to do with Kei getting out of the way of himself. That maturation process is great because it allows him to display all of the things we saw and at times saw flashes, but didn’t quite go to Saturday. Now he’s taking that to Saturdays consistently.”
On this particular Saturday, Kamara would notch goal number 22. He made a near-post run to the corner of the six-yard box, and somehow, despite a poor angle and his momentum carrying him away from the goal, redirected a Federico Higuain corner kick inside the near post.
At the time Kamara scored, we were all behind the benches just before halftime, so my personal view was obscured. I looked to Stern, who had a better vantage point, and asked, “Was it Kei?”
He smiled and nodded.
“It was Kei.”
The meeting between Kamara and John was actually not their first. They had crossed paths in 2006 when Kamara was part of the Generation Adidas team that made a trip to England. John was plying his trade with Coventry City at the time.
“I’m sure he doesn’t remember that,” Kamara said. “I met him then and I was Columbus then and I had heard a lot about him. But it’s great to have this weekend and to have a few of those guys around, and to meet a player of his caliber. What he did for the club in goals is amazing. “
And now, as he chases the single-season scoring record, Kamara not only set an MLS record by scoring against his 21st MLS club, but he pulled within four goals of Stern John while Stern John himself was in the building. Talk about rising to the occasion.
Or not. Kamara said it didn’t really cross his mind in the heat of the moment. It wasn’t until he reflected afterward that he realized what a cool moment it was.
“Now that I think about it,” he said, “it’s an honor to say that I’ve scored against every club and all those guys were there. Stern John was there and I hope he approved, and I hope McBride approve of the header.”
Stern John definitely approved. Before he left the stadium at the end of the night, he said it was great to see Kamara in the midst of his historic season.
“We were just talking about football and scoring goals and stuff,” John said. “He’s doing really well. For the Crew to have a chance to do well, he needs to stay healthy. If he stays fit and healthy, I think he is going to score a lot of goals.”
John then asked how many games remained in the season. I told him Kamara had three games to score four goals to tie the record, or five to break it. He pondered the math for half a second, then rendered his judgment.
“He can make it,” John declared. “The records are made to be broken. If he breaks it, my hat’s off to him.”