KANSAS CITY --- Kei Kamara still sees himself as a center forward, but he’s gradually starting to see things in a different light. It hasn’t always been like that.
When Kansas City Wizards manager Peter Vermes moved Kamara wide right in the side’s 4-3-3 formation early this season, his decision was met with some resistance from his strong-willed forward.
"He wasn't willing at all,” Vermes said. “His interpretation was that he was playing as a right midfielder, and that's not that position. Not in our formation it’s not."
You won’t find any disagreement there from Kamara, either. He readily admits the change wasn’t one he welcomed with open arms.
[inline_node:318940]“Starting up the season, it wasn’t my favorite position to play,” Kamara said. “When I’m playing in the center, I definitely like to drift wide. At the same time, when I was in a wide position, I wasn’t happy about it.”
But with a little success and overall growth as a player, Kamara is beginning to see exactly why Vermes made the move. He’s scored a career-high 10 goals this season heading into the team’s match with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday at Red Bull Arena.
Not that his manager – a talented, young forward in his own playing days as well – didn’t understand his star forward’s sentiments either.
"I know that when I was a young player and played up front,” Vermes said, “if someone would have came to me and said, 'Listen, we need you to play here.’ [I would have said] ‘I'm a forward. I'm not going there.’ You think that as a player, and that's part of the reason why you're there.
"As you get a little bit older, you start to understand the game more from a tactical perspective."
To help Kamara understand where he fit in, Vermes and his staff frequently brought the Sierre Leone international in for film sessions to point out exactly how and why his game was benefiting from the move, beyond his increased productivity.
For one, Kamara receives the ball to his feet much more with room to maneuver in wide areas, allowing him to use his size, speed and touch to shrug off defenders with a serious size disadvantage. He’s also spending much less time absorbing contact, setting up as a primary option on goal kicks and getting in behind his defender far more frequently to also contribute four assists.
And even though he was apprehensive at first, Kamara is starting to see the tangible and intangible benefits behind Vermes’ decision.
“It’s been a change for me this year, but it’s been a good change,” Kamara said. “I don’t know if I would have scored this many goals if I was playing center forward, or maybe I would have scored more. Who knows? It’s good for every player to be diverse and able to play different positions because that’s the best way for your career to excel.”
[inline_node:316814]And in the long run, career advancement is at the top of Kamara’s priorities - just behind winning. That’s something his teammates appreciate even if they know the gregarious Kamara hasn’t always been overjoyed in his new role.
“You take your hat off to him because that’s probably not where he was the most comfortable to start with,” Wizards captain Davy Arnaud said, “but he’s done a good job in the role. When Kei is confident and people around him are confident in him, it brings out the best in him.”
And, to be sure, Vermes certainly has plenty of confidence in his leading scorer. So much so, in fact, that the Wizards manager doesn’t believe Kamara has scratched even half of his total potential.
"To me, he is like a Baby Huey,” Vermes said. “I don't think he gets how physically gifted he is compared to the other guys around him."
What Kamara does know, however, is that he isn’t satisfied with what has become a breakout season. He pointed to his now-infamous miss against the Galaxy as one example of opportunities – and points – missed.
“No one is ever satisfied,” he said. “You could score 100 goals, and you’re still going to want 101. Getting 10 goals so far is good, but, looking at myself, I know I can be more than that.”