FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Kei Kamara didn’t expect 2016 to unfold the way it did.
After tying for the league lead in goals (22), finishing second in MVP voting, and guiding Columbus Crew SC to an MLS Cup final appearance in 2015, Kamara saw his future in Ohio. He believed that he would be a pillar of the organization for years to come, and he never imagined wearing another jersey.
But as evidenced time and again, life can be pretty unpredictable, and Kamara’s time in Columbus came to an abrupt end on May 12 when he was traded to the New England Revolution. It was a move that sent shockwaves through Major League Soccer, and it caught Kamara somewhat unawares.
Just two days later Kamara made his Revolution debut, going the full 90 minutes in New England’s 2-0 win over the Chicago Fire. And while his impact was immediate – the Revs went 5-2-0 in his first seven appearances in all competitions – his individual production lagged.
Kamara didn’t score his first goal in a Revolution jersey until his seventh appearance – a U.S. Open Cup victory over the New York Cosmos in late June – and his first league goal didn’t arrive until early July, when he bagged a brace in New England’s 3-2 loss to the Montreal Impact.
It was a frustrating spell for a player who had scored 27 goals in 41 appearances for Columbus, but an adjustment period in New England wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘You play similar to the team he came from, why is he not scoring as many goals right away?’” head coach Jay Heaps said. “Look, it takes time. It takes time to adjust to players. It takes time to build that chemistry.”
Kamara agreed that his first two months in Foxborough were all about settling.
“The first couple games when I got here, it was just one of those where you’re just hyper and you want to get into it,” he said. “Then to actually settle down and knowing how everything was, and then switching to a different formation, finally everything started clicking.”
New England’s move to two-striker setup (in a 4-4-2 diamond) in late August did seem to suit Kamara. He had four goals and zero assists in 14 appearances before the switch, while had three goals and two assists in seven appearances after Heaps implemented the change.
Ultimately, Kamara’s first five months with the Revolution – totaling 21 league appearances – will provide a solid base from which to build moving into 2017, when the 32-year-old forward will have an entire preseason to continue forming bonds and partnerships with his New England teammates.
That, according to Kamara, will make a world of difference.
“I like to know my teammates off the field, because when we relate that way, that’s how we create a good team,” Kamara said. “It’s not just about things that happen in the locker room. It’s outside the locker room. That’s how you build a team.
“When I can have that with those guys in preseason for a couple weeks just being out there (in Arizona), the ups and downs, then we get to build together.”
There’s little question that the Revs will build with – and around – Kamara moving forward, as Heaps called him “a big piece of what we’re going to do next year.” And for Kamara’s part, he’s just thrilled to have the opportunity to continue playing professional soccer.
“Being a professional soccer player for as long as I’ve been, it’s a blessing every day,” Kamara said after wrapping up his 11th pro season. “I show up to not really work; I show up to play.
“This isn’t where I started, but definitely finishing my season here in New England, it was good. Obviously you want to be in the playoffs and you want to win a championship, but there’s a lot for us to work on.
“I was really happy just to be here and happy to be on the board a few times and just interact with the fans a little bit. I look forward to something better.”