Long before Jurgen Klinsmann was lassoing German leaguers into the US national team, there was Kamani Hill.
The relaxed Bay Area native ripped up youth competition and found himself venturing over to Europe and the Bundesliga at the precocious soccer age of 20.
Hill impressed enough at Wolfsburg to earn himself eight starts at the German division first side.
Contemplate that for a second.
Jozy Altidore was 18 when he signed with La Liga’s Villarreal and was loaned out from the 1st team to lower division Xerex. Clint Dempsey was 22 before he splashed down in London.
Hill was in the ripe age where his development to date had reached high enough of a level for him to learn and progress at the top stage. It’s how players with arching ceilings develop.
However, following Hill’s European peak at Wolfsburg, a steady stream of revolving coaches and curt emails put him back in the States–the victim of player churn and a reminder that being an American and attempting to integrate into the the European soccer business rat race is almost always impersonal and very often cruel.
And so the beginning of 2012 left Kamani Hill on a worn out turf field in Portreo Hill in San Francisco playing against none other than yours truly.
That’s just out of whack. Out of place.
Our team the SF Black Sox had heard we were up against a US national and had—like rec teams do—keyed on one figure—hill of course—to stop.
Only Kamani was using this for exercise….and he didn’t try….and he pretty much killed our team as much his his right foot as with his kindness and sportsmanship. With four goals to his credit that evening, the endearing memory of the match was more Hill continuously murmuring to both his team and ours, “That’s a really nice pass.” or “Oh that’s a well-played combination.”
That brief commentary by Hill is indicative of a personality of a grounded person with a quiet confidence. No need to showoff and plenty humbleness to take the game in stride despite the glaring chasm of talent between his and everyone else’s.
A player who knows he’s got the chips to make a big play, a career; not one with the chip on his shoulder.
Hard not to root for player, a person, like that.
Matthew, TSG: I don’t know if Tony [Tony Alejandre, Kamani’s agent] told you, but we actually played against each other a few months ago.
Kamani: Nah he didn’t. Where?
TSG: San Francisco. Makes sense you didn’t know. You know, not a remarkable event your life.
But I want to talk about it for a second, what I, and the guys on the team were impressed wit more than anything was not how, well, fluid and graceful you were in possession, but that you consistently played within a team concept even though you could have scored probably about 15 with your cleats untied.
Kamani: Ha! I had my reality checked for a few months.
I was trying to incorporate the team. It was good fun and I was just trying to staying as fit as possible. I was going to Berkeley on Monday to play and then out there to San Francisco on Tuesday. Anything just to play and stay in shape.
TSG: Well, if you want I’ll let you apologize to our goalie for bending a ball over the wall and making him look like a moron on a set piece that looked like it was just second nature to you.
Alright, let’s get to the interview and the more interesting stuff.
Just let stuff fly. Be bitter. Be happy. Be you.
Kamani: I always try to be a little diplomatic, but I’ll be honest and straight.
TSG: First thing, how in the hell did you end up with the Rapids?
Kamani: I was—let’s see—I would have to go back a little ways to give you the whole picture of the story.
TSG: Okay, let’s go.
Kamani: I was playing in Portugal for Vitória de Guimarães
I was having trouble breaking through to the first team in the 2010-2011 season. But I was there the whole, I was playing a lot with the reserve team.
That season I doing pretty well, had some good moments. I scored the game winning goal in the reserves final.
I was a regular contributor at the senior team practice and I had another year on my contract.
I thought the next year I had a real good chance to breakthrough to the senior side. I had one more year left on my contract
Right before the next season though the team sent me an email and said they didn’t need me to come in.
TSG: Woah, they sent you an email? That’s it?
Kamani: Yeah, that’s just how they do business.
TSG: In English or Portuguese?
TSG: So they just sent you a message in Portuguese saying that your services wouldn’t be needed. That was it?
Kamani: Yeah they sent me a couple of sentences saying you know, don’t come in for the preseason.
TSG: Did you use Google Translate or something?
Kamani: Nah, I understand it now and I read Portuguese.
Basically, they sent me that email and I knew my options were either to see if the club wanted to loan me out or whatever.
At that moment–after being there for two years and not getting a real opportunity–I was like, ‘I’m done with this and I’m ready to move on.’
So we negotiated a buyout and that was in early August 2011.
By the time that happened, I came back. I wanted to get into MLS but it was close to the end of the window and that didn’t have enough time to really happen.