One of the biggest realizations in being a sports fan is that for every bit of joy and celebration, there will also be equal parts disappointment and heartbreak. Wins and losses. Injuries and returns. Signings and releases. And in the case of soccer, loans and assignments.

The fanbase of Sporting Kansas City felt that heartbreak on Monday, as the news became official that Kei Kamara, one of the most recognized faces to the team, as well as a top goal scorer, was assigned to Middlesbrough FC, of England’s Football League Championship. Unlike Kamara’s loan to Norwich FC earlier this year, which did see him eventually return to the states to rejoin SKC, this departure is permanent.

When Kei joined Sporting (at that time, still the Kansas City Wizards) in 2009, he had a slightly less than stellar reputation for his attitude and approach to the game. Apparently the change of scenery made a difference, as he very quickly became one of the team’s more productive players, and arguably their most well-identified personalities both on and off the pitch (the stories of Kei and his Chipotle are endless). Having just returned from an ankle injury as an available substitution, I’m happy to know that least I was in attendance to see his final appearance with Sporting.

I had the pleasure of meeting him several months ago, right after his return to Sporting from the Norwich FC loan. Watching him interact with fans was something else; he makes each and every fan feel like he’s known them for years, but gets excited like he hasn’t seen them for several years. He happily autographed the back of my fiancee’s jersey (Kei is her favorite player), and was absolutely giddy when our daughter demonstrated his “Heart shaped hands” symbol. I’m not sure which of the two of them enjoyed that moment more.

Ultimately, if you’re a soccer player and you want to be the best in the world at what you do, Europe is where you want to be. While I’m heartbroken as a fan to see him leave Sporting, I’m happy for him for getting this advancement in his career.

This is my heart shaped farewell to you, Kei. Thank you so much for everything you’ve given to us, both on the pitch and around the city.

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(with Kei Kamara at Kansas Sampler – 5/30/2013)

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