Kei Kamara may not have enjoyed much success at either Norwich City or Middlesbrough, but the Columbus Crew SC striker still attributes his return to MLS stardom to the lessons he learned during his time in England.
Kamara, 31, was speaking to ESPN FC ahead of the home leg of the Crew’s Eastern Conference Championship playoff series against the New York Red Bulls this Sunday evening, having downed Didier Drogba’s Montreal Impact in the semi-finals with an extra-time winner.
The Sierra Leone international’s first campaign back in MLS following an ill-fated spell at Middlesbrough has seen him exceed even the highest of expectations, as he finished the regular season as the league's joint-highest scorer with 22 goals from 32 appearances.
He is still expected to miss out on MVP honours to fellow top scorer Sebastian Giovinco, who won the league’s Golden Boot award on account of having 16 assists compared to the Kamara’s eight, but unlike the Toronto FC forward, the Crew’s star man has the chance to cap off his 2015 with a first MLS Cup title.
He previously came close to winning one two years ago with Sporting Kansas City, but a £900,000 move to Boro in September 2013 meant he was forced to watch from across the Atlantic has his former teammates went on to lift the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy a few months later.
"Being in England and watching that game, I was definitely rooting for Kansas City and wanting them to lift the cup," Kamara told ESPN FC. "It was amazing to watch them win that championship, but I've always thought about coming back to the league and trying to win the cup myself.
"Coming back now, it does spark a little bit of a fire in me knowing that I missed out then, and this is the chance for me to be part of a winning team."
Kamara did make a promising start to life on Teesside, as he scored four times in his first eight games for the Championship club, but a rash of injuries saw him go goalless over the rest of the 2013-14 season before falling out of favour with new boss Aitor Karanka.
The situation eventually led to his contract being cancelled by mutual consent in August 2014, before the 6ft 3in forward opted to return to the States over another European move after receiving an offer from the Crew – the club where he began his professional career as the ninth overall pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft.
It was not the first time that he had seen a spell in England fizzle out either, as a three-month loan spell at Norwich over the second half of the 2012-13 season saw him miss out on the chance of a permanent switch after netting just once in 11 games.
Nevertheless, the MLS MVP finalist insists that his spell in Norfolk and latter stint up north both had a hugely beneficial effect on his career, while he will always be grateful for getting the opportunity to play in England.
“England is definitely the height of football for players,” he added. “You see how competitive it is to play out there, and for me, joining Norwich City, playing in the Premier League and moving on to Middlesbrough was amazing.
“It was a challenge playing in the Championship but I learned a lot from the coaches and the culture there.
“I’ve used the experience and little things I learned during the year-and-a-half I was in England. I’ve brought it back and right now it’s paying off. I’m happy I made the decision to come back.”
Based on his displays this season, Kamara should certainly be more than happy with his decision to head back to MLS so far, but he will feel even more vindicated if he is wearing an MLS Cup winner’s medal around his neck come December.