One of the defining characteristics of the 2015 Major League Soccer season has been the massive influx of talent from across the Atlantic.
New York City FC, a new franchise playing its first season in the league, has led the charge. Before the season, NYC signed former Barcelona and Spanish national team striker David Villa to head their attack and solidified their midfield by bringing in US national team member Mix Diskerud. As the season progressed, Diskerud was joined in the midfield by former Chelsea and England captain Frank Lampard, as well as Andrea Pirlo, who led Italian club Juventus to the UEFA Champions League final in June.
Imports to other MLS teams this season include another former England captain in Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy), Brazilian legend Kaká (Orlando City SC) and aging Ivorian striker Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact).
With all of these big names grabbing the headlines, the Columbus Crew’s signing of Sierra Leonean forward Kei Kamara was not a big story, but as the season has progressed, and Kamara has proceeded to score goal after goal, people have started to take notice.
Kamara, who began his career with Columbus in 2006, returned to MLS this season after a one year stint with English club Middlesbrough and immediately got off to a hot start, scoring in the Crew’s home opener on March 14 and getting nominated for the Player of the Month award in April.
His scoring barrage has continued into the summer as Columbus has risen to second place in the tough Eastern Conference, putting the playoffs well within their sights. Kamara now leads the league with 15 goals in just 21 appearances and will deservedly be playing in his first ever MLS All-Star game in Denver, Colorado. With this new position of prominence, Kamara is working to bring attention to a cause that literally strikes very close to home.
Kamara’s hometown of Kenema had Sierra Leone’s first reported case in the 2014 Ebola epidemic that killed almost 4000 people in the country and caused untold amounts of damage to the west African nation’s economy.
In December last year, Kamara was featured in a video alongside other African stars Yaya Toure and Fabrice Muamba as part of a joint effort by UNICEF and the US Centers for Disease Control to raise funds for aid workers in west Africa.
Kamara has also joined with fellow Sierra Leonean MLSer Michael Lahoud and the Schools for Salone program to help with the rebuilding effort in his home country.
In early June, construction workers in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, broke ground for The Kei Kamara, Michael Lahoud Education for All Primary School, which is expected to be operational by October and should provide education for more than 225 children at a time.
The MLS season gets back underway after the All-Star Game against Tottenham Hotspur on July 29th.
If Kamara can keep scoring at this torrid pace, he has a chance to join Mamadou Diallo, of Senegal, as the only Africans to win the MLS Golden Boot and could lead Columbus to their first major trophy since 2008.
But winning the MLS Cup will not be the only thing on Kamara’s mind as the season progresses. Sierra Leone still requires a lot of help to recover from the effects of the Ebola epidemic, and the recovery effort will not fix things overnight.
But the work of people like Kamara is starting to make a difference. As Kei’s countryman Michael Lahoud put it, “we’re not only rebuilding education, we’re rebuilding hope.”
(This blog post was written by VOA Intern Jonah Haskell)