Kei Kamara returned to Columbus seven years after he left the city where his professional soccer career began. He returned as a different man and player, someone who has come a long way since his first stint with the Black & Gold, when he scored just three goals in 19 matches.
“I’m not straight out of college anymore,” Kamara says. “I’m an adult now. I was here at 21 and I appreciated being a professional, but I don’t think I was smart enough, making smart decisions, where now I appreciate the town more as a family town, I’m more reserved, and I save a lot more of my energy than I did the first time.”
The 31-year-old has used his energy wisely as he has had an MVP-caliber regular season for the Black & Gold and has continued to carry that play into the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. Kamara scored 22 goals and served eight assists in League play, before adding another brace in the postseason.
Kamara says playing for the Capital City makes this year even sweeter.
“Columbus being my first professional team, it means so much more,” he says. “I didn’t do so well my first time around; but for me to come back here and have an incredible season that’s this right now, I’m just looking to offer this city a lot more going forward in my future.”
Having taken 135 shots, 57 of which were on goal and having scored seven game-winners, Kamara broke three single-season club records this year. He gives credit to the passionate Crew SC supporters for motivating him to play his best.
“When you feel so connected to the supporters, you want to give it all out for them,” he says. “I really believe that in this game, the more you connect with supporters, the better it is.”
Especially in a “family town” like Columbus, the relationship between the club and city carries a lot more weight, Kamara says.
“If we can all be together, then it makes it one family,” he says, “and when it’s one family, then the people support the team a lot, and hold the team a lot closer to their hearts.”
A wink, a wave or heart-shaped hands to friendly faces in the stands go a long way for Crew SC’s MVP. Particularly when supporters travel to matches across North America, Kamara wants to share his appreciation for his extended family.
“That’s why you leave it all out on the field, because you want to make sure you send them home happy,” he says.
The Sierra Leonean is happy at his Columbus home with his wife and new daughter, making friends with neighbors and getting involved in the community.
“My neighborhood is amazing,” he says. “Living in a place like that, it makes you feel more at home than anything else, but it’s everything, you know. It’s not just about soccer, it’s off the field, my neighbors and everyone that’s really made me feel at home and it’s great.”
Kamara also does an excellent job of making young refugees feel at home as he shares his personal refugee story with youth at local schools. His passionate work in Columbus and Sierra Leone, where he is helping to build a school, just awarded him the MLS Humanitarian of the Year Award. Kamara is the first player in club history to win the award.
“It’s big for me, really,” he says. “I appreciate Columbus because as a young one, as a teenager coming to America, I wanted to play soccer so bad, I wanted to become a professional soccer player.”
He’s accomplished that and much more throughout his career, but he still has one more goal to accomplish this year.
“It’d be amazing just to win an MLS Cup, but it’d be even more special in the fact that it’s going back around to where I first started,” he says. “So if that’s how history is being written, then it’s the perfect time for me to be back in Columbus.”
Kamara missed Crew SC's first MLS Cup by a season back when he left the club back in 2008. Now he is bound and determined to win the MLS Cup for the city where he began his career.
“I’ll give all my goals just to bring a cup here, being part of this team,” he says. “I left in 2008 when they won it, so being back here this year, and to be able to win the MLS Cup, it’d be everything I asked for as a professional soccer player.”