[MLS Q&A] After playing college ball at UCLA, Northern California product Kamani Hill moved to Germany's VfL Wolfsburg in 2007. His Bundesliga appearances led to two games for the U.S. national team, but in the following four years in Europe with Wolfsburg and Portuguese clubs Vitoria Guimaraes and Aves, Hill failed to get regular playing time. He returned to the USA last year and on April 1 marked his debut with the Colorado Rapids with a goal. The 26-year-old spoke with Julian Quisquater about his experience abroad and his comeback ...
SOCCER AMERICA: What were you doing since leaving Portugal and signing with the Colorado Rapids?
KAMANI HILL: In August of 2011 I agreed to a buyout with Vitoria Guimaraes. After that I trained with the Earthquakes for a little bit at the end of their season to stay in shape. Then in November I had a trial with Hammarby in Sweden for two weeks. They really liked me and said they were going to invite me back in January, but then they changed their coach and I never heard anything.
SA: Having to deal with coaching changes seems to be your European curse …?
KAMANI HILL: Tell me about it. It seems everywhere I go I run into it, but that’s the business. Every club has an agenda. Sometimes that means a new coach.
SA: I heard you were coaching a bit of youth soccer?
KAMANI HILL: Yeah, a little bit. I helped out with the Berkeley Mavericks for a while when I was in the Bay Area.
SA: Despite your frustrations, what value did you take from your experience abroad in Germany and Portugal?
KAMANI HILL: Definitely just learning how to be a professional footballer. I went straight to Wolfsburg from college and learned a ton from [Wolfsburg coach] Felix Magath while I was there. I watched Wolfsburg go from being a mid-table club to winning the Bundesliga. Even though I wasn’t playing regularly, I took that winning mentality with me when I went to Portugal [and now to the MLS]. You just have to adapt and learn as much as you can.
SA: How did it feel seeing Wolfsburg win the 2009 Bundesliga title and not really being a part of it?
KAMANI HILL: It was very frustrating for me, as it would be for any player. When I got to Germany there was a big difference in the level of play [compared to college at UCLA]. But when a new coach comes in, and he spends 20 million euros [on new players], that’s how it is. You can’t let things get to you that you can’t control.
SA: How did it feel to score on your debut with the Colorado Rapids?
KAMANI HILL:It was such a great feeling after all the teams I’ve played for and the trials I’ve faced. After not breaking through [into a starting 11 in Europe] it was a tremendous relief. It’s definitely a big moment for me personally. Hopefully that’s something I can build on for the next eight months of the season and move forward.
SA: You made quite an impression in 8 minutes of play. Do you think your role will expand now that Colorado’s staff has seen what you are capable of?
KAMANI HILL: It’s definitely important that they see what I can do in a game. You can make that shot four or five times in practice but it’s not the same. Hopefully I’ve got a foothold in the group and I can work my way up the depth chart. Getting into the starting 11 consistently is the goal.
SA: How long are you signed with Colorado?
KAMANI HILL: I’m signed for the rest of the season with a team option for additional seasons after that. They have the right to hold onto me if they choose to.
SA: Do you have aspirations to return to Europe, or are you done with that phase of your career?
KAMANI HILL: I’m open to going back to Europe. I’m familiar with the level of play and I have five years of experience over there. I don’t know what the future holds but I wouldn’t rule it out if there was an opportunity. I always want to challenge myself and Europe was my dream growing up. I think in the immediate future, my goal is to establish myself [with Colorado] for a season or two, and then see what opportunities come.
SA: Do you think working your way back into the national team is a realistic prospect?
KAMANI HILL: My goal is to be back in the national team. I can only control the things in my power, so if I play well hopefully someone takes notice.
SA: I think it’s fair to say a lot of people had written you off since you’ve been off the radar for a while. What do you have to say to folks who thought your career may be over?
KAMANI HILL: I think that’s normal. If you aren’t playing consistently in a starting 11 people forget you. For me it’s been a very personal battle. I’m not worried about what other people think. People doubting me is actually what fuels me to work hard and stay in shape, and I know I have the ability to be a professional footballer.
Hill scores in debut for Colorado Rapids in a 2-0 April 1 win over Colorado ...