MONTREAL — Kei Kamara says his affection for Montreal has not changed, even as the striker's contract dispute with the city's Major League Soccer club dominates training camp.
Kamara spoke to the media on Tuesday for the first time since saying in a Jan. 11 social media post that he asked CF Montreal for a trade.
Asked if he was negotiating through social media and if he regretted past posts expressing his love for Montreal, Kamara said "I'm not trying to buy love from anyone."
"I will be lying if I said I regret expressing my love for Montreal. When you love someone, you don’t regret expressing your love them," Kamara said.
"My family came here in November, and it was amazing, what we did last year was amazing. That’s why I knocked on the door and asked if I could retire here."
The divide between CF Montreal and Kamara’s camp began before Montreal’s playoff run in October when he and sporting director Olivier Renard discussed a new contract.
The 38-year-old Kamara said he was looking for a long-term contract and planned to move his family to Montreal.
He said he was instead offered a two-year "take it or leave it" deal and was informed that there would be no negotiation. Not feeling like the terms were suitable enough for him and his family to commit, he asked for his option to not be picked up in order to find a new club.
After his option was picked up, there was renewed optimism within Kamara’s camp. When it became clear that his contract offer would not change, he publicly announced that he was looking to leave the club.
Kamara then missed the first week of the club’s pre-season due to illness and was forced to play catch-up with his fitness throughout the last three weeks as he missed two more sessions.
The Sierra Leone international has not been involved any of the team’s tactical drills or scrimmages, even being told to sit out the friendly against the academy’s under-23 squad where he did cardio instead.
He has snice slowly began re-integrating into the fold, taking part in the team’s full-field drills, and speaking with new head coach Hernan Losada, reaffirming to the Argentine that he will remain with the club while under contract.
“I’m here because I do have a contract, and I’m going to honour that contract until something does happen,” Kamara said.
Kamara was known to soccer fans in Montreal even before joining the club as a thorn in their side. Kamara's 13 goals against Montreal in 18 MLS seasons are tied with Chicago as his most against any team.
He continued his brisk scoring pace after joining Montreal in 2022. He had nine goals and seven assists last season and was a unifying force in the locker room, becoming a fan favourite at Stade Saputo.
Despite being tied for second on the team in goals he made US$94,000 last season, which ranked 25th among Montreal players.
The club is in its last week of training at Olympic Stadium before they set up shop in Florida to begin the final preparations of the MLS season. With a new manager and new approach to certain aspects of the game, players who may have found themselves on the fringes of the squad are looking to make their presence known to the new boss.
“I have a lot of things to learn still as it’s a new position for me, but this year I want to work hard and show that I can help the team when they need me,” said wing back Jojea Kwizera. “(I need to improve) my defensive work and give more production offensively. Lassi (Finnish winger Lassi Lappalainen) scores and gets assists and that’s the biggest thing I can bring."
Kwizera, the 15th overall pick in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft, has shown considerable improvement in his delivery of the ball from the flanks — an element that is of a top priority for a system like Losada’s.
There was a moment of concern during Tuesday's training as newly signed defender George Campbell went down with an apparent knee injury after a hard challenge from Mason Toye. He was unable to put any weight on his knee at first, but ended up limping to the bench with help from an assistant coach before being carted back to the locker room.
There are two more sessions before Montreal close out the first leg of camp with a friendly against the Première ligue de soccer du Québec All-Star team on Feb. 3.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.
Elias Grigoriadis, The Canadian Press