By Sahr Morris Jnr
Chicago Fire FC’s Kei Kamara has been scoring goals since his current head coach, Ezra Hendrickson, was still his teammate on the Columbus Crew.
That was in 2006 and 2007, when Hendrickson was a towering veteran defender and Kamara was just a burgeoning striker out of Cal State Dominguez Hills trying to make name for himself in MLS.
Fast forward more than a decade-and-a-half, and Kamara is the same hungry goalscorer he always was, now banging in his 140th goal in MLS (third all-time) in the 92nd minute of Chicago’s dramatic 3-2 road victory over Inter Miami CF, the Fire’s first win of the 2023 season.
“Kei did tonight what he’s been doing for quite some time now. If [Brian] Guti[érrez] got that ball to him, he would put it in the back of the net,” said Hendrickson. “He’s a guy that I trust. He’s a guy that I’ve known for a long time now.”
Kamara was a bit chagrined to be reminded of the full length of his career but is nevertheless thrilled to be playing for his old teammate.
“I think it’s not good for me to play for somebody that I played with because the guys call me grandpa in the locker room. That’s really bad,” joked Kamara, who’s now scored for 10 MLS clubs. “But it’s something I followed. … And I believed in him all these years, so I was really happy, even last season, I was happy that he was the leader of the team here.”
Kamara joined the Fire just before the 2023 season after publicly requesting a trade away from CF Montréal, where he enjoyed a resurgent 2022 campaign, tallying 9g/7a for the Canadian side.
Beyond adding a proven goal-scorer to a squad that recorded 12 shutouts but still failed to make the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs last season, Hendrickson is happy to have another veteran leader in the locker room.
“He’s been good for us on and off the field,” remarked Hendrickson.
“He’s an older guy, but we know what he gives us. He’s still fit and he’s going to bring a lot to this team, this organization,” the coach continued.
More than scoring a goal, Kamara was happy Chicago’s young squad closed out a game with a win after giving up a 2-0 lead to find themselves tied 2-2 late in the second half, the second time they’d squandered a lead in four matches this season.
“It was really about how we played the past three games and not being able to close it out and get a win,” said Kamara. “So it felt so much bigger than me scoring that goal for the rest of us because it gives us a lot of beliefs that we’ve been working on, obviously, since I’ve been here for the past three, four weeks now that is paying off.”
The veteran striker, who scored his goal off an assist from Chicago’s 19-year-old homegrown Gutierrez, has full faith in the team’s youth, even if he prefers to keep his praise close to the chest for now.
“I hope they don’t hear this interview, but I can see so much of the heart that they do have and everybody wants to prove something,” extolled Kamara, who’s five behind Landon Donovan (145) in the all-time goals chart. “And it’s great. It’s really great.” Credit: MLS