Kei Kamara turned up at the Columbus Crew’s practice facility in May 2016 convinced he was set to join the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Social media was buzzing with rumours the striker would be moved following an on-field spat and subsequent public comments directed at a teammate.
Kamara was right to believe a deal was in place, he just had the team wrong.
“I went into training thinking, ‘I just got traded to Vancouver,'” Kamara recalled Monday. “They told me I was going to New England Revolution. I was like, ‘Oh, I thought it was going to be Vancouver Whitecaps from all the Twitter stuff.”
After that false alarm, Kamara finally became a member of the Whitecaps some 19 months later Sunday when the Major League Soccer club acquired him from New England for a pair of draft picks.
“I actually felt like (the 2016 trade) was closer than what just happened,” the 33-year-old said on a conference call Monday from his native Sierra Leone. “It’s a bit of a surprise.”
In snagging Kamara, Vancouver now has a powerful centre forward who should fit into head coach Carl Robinson’s setup that relies heavily on crosses and set pieces.
With 98 goals in 286 MLS appearances over 11 seasons, the Whitecaps will be the six-foot-three, 190-pound Kamara’s seventh stop in North America after also playing for Norwich City and Middlesbrough in England.
“It’s all about feeding the striker,” said Kamara, who has added five goals in 12 playoff games. “I want that pressure on me.”
The Whitecaps will be looking to build on a 2018 season that saw them reach the Western Conference semifinal before bowing out to the Seattle Sounders in a two-game aggregate series where Vancouver registered just one tepid shot on target.
Kamara had a career-high 22 goals for Columbus in 2015 to help the Crew reach the MLS Cup final, and has scored a dozen times each of the last two seasons.
Tenth all-time on the MLS goal list, Kamara also isn’t afraid to speak his mind. Apart from the run-in with Federico Higuain that led to his Columbus exit, he made it known this past season the Revolution weren’t the right fit for his skill set.
That fiery personality is something Vancouver can probably use, with Kamara’s demeanour more akin to that of Robinson — a no-nonsense midfielder during his playing days —than most of the current roster.
“He’s aggressive, he has the courage of his convictions,” Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said in a phone interview. “Having someone like him who is prepared to be vocal is something we haven’t had.”
Active on social media with more than 60,000 Twitter followers, Kamara said that approach is about getting the most out of himself and the team.
“When I’m screaming at you, it’s not because I don’t like you,” he said. “It’s because I want all of us to be better.”
With both Kamara and recently acquired striker Anthony Blondell the two primary options up top for the Whitecaps, it seems like the door is closing on the potential return of Fredy Montero.
The Colombian scored 13 times last season while on loan from his Chinese club, but made US$1.8 million as a designated player. Kamara was on the books for $800,000 in New England.
“We’re keeping all the doors open,” said Lenarduzzi. “It needs to be established what the Chinese club is looking to do, and what Fredy is looking to do.”
Vancouver’s arduous travel schedule is always a consideration when adding an older player, but Lenarduzzi said Kamara’s age didn’t come into the equation when going after a target man the Whitecaps had their eye on for some time
“I’m in Sierra Leone, West Africa,” Kamara joked. “That’s a long trip.
“I’m focused, I’m energetic, athletic. I know how to take care of myself off the field.”
Kamara’s family fled to the United States from war-torn Sierra Leone when he as a teenager, but despite becoming an American citizen, he decided to play for his homeland internationally.
A native of Kenema, he runs the Heart Shaped Hands foundation — named after one of his many goal celebrations — which works to provide scholarships in his native country, and is currently raising funds for victims of an August mudslide that killed more than 1,000 people in the capital of Freetown.
“As a professional of anything, the best way is for you to go back to your roots and see how many smiles you can put on people’s faces,” said Kamara. “It’s not about how much you make or the fame, but I use those things to give back.
“I can make an impact in this country.”
The Whitecaps will be hoping he can do the same for them on the field.
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