DENVER – Scoring on his debut for the Colorado Rapids last weekend against Portland, Kei Kamara proved he’s still one of the best soccer players around. But in a twist of fate, it was his childhood love for another sport that set the tone for his move to Colorado.
“When I was younger, when I first moved to the U.S., I was really big into skateboarding,” Kamara told ProSoccer USA. “I followed it a little bit in the Tony Hawk days. Rodney Mullen was one of the other people I followed and I used to go to events and just watch. I roller skated and wasn’t really good at [skateboarding]. But, the more I played with it, the more I got comfortable.”
Years later, Kamara was still interested in skateboards. Playing in the 2015 MLS All-Star Game hosted by Colorado, Kamara had to make use of the Rapids’ facilities. While charging his phone, he spotted a Rapids branded longboard that he absolutely had to have.
“I was joking, but the Rapids staff said, ‘Yeah! I’ll get you one,’” Kamara recalled. “One day, a skateboard showed up in my locker in Columbus and I was shocked. It’s one of my favorite toys aside from my PlayStation and I use it whenever I’m outdoors.”
It became a prized possession that Kamara held on to even through stops at Columbus, New England and Vancouver. When Kamara was not picked up by the Whitecaps back in December, fate came full circle and the skateboard played a role.
“There was something to that. There was a destiny to that,” insists Kamara. “Colorado contacted my agent. I actually laughed and told him I had a skateboard from Colorado. That’s the first thing I said to my agent.”
With a combination of fate, goodwill and some savvy moves by Colorado during the expansion draft, the Rapids finally landed Kamara. He’s done nothing but impress since his arrival.
“I’ve been blown away,” said Rapids head coach Anthony Hudson. “He’s got a real team first mentality. Whenever he speaks in meetings it’s not to go in a different direction, it’s to help people understand. If there’s something to be said that may not be popular, he’ll say it. How he works on and off the pitch, everyone can see. He brings a big personality and humor to the group, which is priceless. I can’t speak highly enough of Kei.”
Whether it’s his banter in games, his goal celebrations or his public dispute with former teammate Federico Higuain, Kamara’s sense of humor and big personality sometimes goes misunderstood by outsiders. But the Rapids forward is also a family man who’s made great efforts as a humanitarian.
“Forget about the people that misunderstand me, that’s their problem,” Kamara said of the critics. “I’m out there, but I give it all. I’m not faking or lying to anyone, so that’s their problem, not mine.”
In the locker room, it hasn’t taken long for Kamara to gain appreciation from teammates.
“He’s very chirpy in the dressing room, but that’s how he is,” said Rapids midfielder Jack Price. “On the pitch, he’s a presence. In that last game, he showed how he can hold the ball up and make runs in behind. He’s massive for us, scoring in his first game. He wants to get 20-plus goals for us this season and he’s on the right track.”
“I’m wearing 23, so if he said 20 goals, he’s got a problem,” Kamara fired back, jokingly. “If everyone is scoring goals, we’re doing good. I want to score and score as many as possible. But if I’m doing my job right, then people won’t worry.”
Kamara’s ability to joke around comes naturally, but it also shows how comfortable he’s been in his latest MLS destination.
“It’s great to be around a team like this,” he said of the transition. “The coaching staff really wants you and is telling you to come in. For them to want me to be a part of the squad is really big.”
He’s also got the skateboard to thank.
“People always thought it was a hint that I was coming to Colorado, but finally it happened,” he said. “It’s funny, but that’s the way it started. I felt like there was something to it. I’m very superstitious, but I felt there was a sign to that.”