Underdog of the Week: Kamali Webson
Antiguan National Team prospect Kamali Webson is this week's Underdog of the Week. A graduate in Marine Biology from Rogers Williams University, Kamali had an unorthodox way of learning the beautiful game.

Christopher McCollum

Kamali Webson began to learn the game, like most other players, at a young age. Also like most other players, his father was his first coach. Unlike most other players though, his father is blind.

“I grew up at Perkins [School for the Blind], basically. I lived in Antigua for a few months after I was born, but then the family moved up to Boston when my dad got a job at Perkins.”

While others may see it as unusual, especially to learn the game from someone who’s blind, it’s second nature to Kamali. After all, it’s what he knows. It also helps that his father is deeply learned in the beautiful game.

“Blindness has never been an issue for me. People ask if it’s weird for my dad to be blind, but I ask them in return if it’s weird that their dad is not blind. It’s what I know, it’s normal. My dad would be, and is, a great coach. When we were in Antigua, he coached his town’s professional team from the third division to the top, and ended up winning it all. He knows soccer better than anyone I know, so growing up he was always my biggest coach and my biggest critic.”

Kamali’s father, who is now Antigua’s ambassador to the United Nations, practiced with his son, teaching him the fundamentals of the game, passing on his accumulated knowledge from being a lifetime fan and student of the game. Kamali started as a goalkeeper, with his father placing shots on goal to train his hands and feet.

Growing up at Perkins where both of his parents taught, introduced Kamali to a way of living that not many experience. It’s tempered him as he’s progressed into adulthood, as he’s become an employee of the school himself. Despite his degree in Marine Biology from Rogers Williams University, Perkins drew him back to work with the kids he grew up among. Kamali credits this environment with keeping him happy on and off the field, which directly contributes to his quality of play.

“It helps me; I’m a player who performs better when I’m happy. And right now, I would never have guessed, but I’m happy with the work I do. I’m happy with the kids I work with, and it makes me happy to play … you know, I thought I did well at the combine, but I was nervous about going over on trial if I was selected. I was thinking about what I would be leaving back here. It keeps me happy and it keeps me grounded, which is a huge thing, and I think it actually helps me play better soccer.”

It might seem like being in that environment would be a primary motivating factor for Kamali, but it being what he grew up with, what he knows, it’s not an exceptional thing. That aspect of normalcy is not what motivates him, but the snub he received in high school, his family, and the mother of one of his best friends, his soccer mom, who tragically lost her battle with cancer during Kamali’s freshman year of college.

Coming out of high school, Kamali was not exactly a sought after commodity. Playing for a high school with a poor track record against competition that also did not warrant college scouts, the odds were always against him. While he was playing club soccer as a teenager, Kamali had moved up the field to take on the role of a striker, and was performing well. Averaging two goals a game, it only made sense to play the same position at Bellingham. Unfortunately, with a sub-standard quality of play, Kamali had to drop deeper and deeper to be able to influence the game, until he eventually became the starting center back.

It ended up being a blessing in disguise, however. Despite being benched for a period of time due to a disagreement with the team captain, Kamali still caught the attention of the scout that came to visit from Rogers Williams. He ended up being recruited as a defender and he looked forward to showing everyone from his high school and club years what he could do at the university level.

He ended up only being able to play for his final three years of eligibility though, tearing his ACL in his freshman year. It was because of this that one of Kamali’s biggest motivators, his teammate’s mother who drove him to practice and whose words of encouragement kept him calm on the field when his temper flared up, was not able to see him play. She lost her battle in her freshman year, and since then, he’s worn an armband in her memory whenever he takes the field.

His competitiveness has always been a driving force behind him, but it wasn’t a thirst to win at all costs that fueled it, but a desire not to lose. It’s general competition to be the best on the field without the sometimes arbitrary scores dictating who won and who lost. Growing up, he played up through all his groups. He was 17 when he entered university, so even at that level he was usually the youngest in his year.

Despite being the youngest on the field, once he passed through his teenage years it became increasingly unlikely that pro soccer was in his future. It was because of this realization, which he was helped to with his father, that he focused his competitive spirit on education, specifically Marine Biology, in order to safeguard his future should his window for a professional opportunity close altogether.

But now with the degree behind him, and still with seven or eight good years, by his estimate, his attention is now solely on finding that that opportunity allow him to reach a level that nobody from Bellingham High School’s soccer team ever has, and few from Roger Williams University sports programs ever has.

 Living a happy life now working with his kids at Perkins, Kamali feels that he’s in a good position to make that jump to the professional game. Keeping his teeth sharp with Portland Phoenix’s PDL team, he’s champing at the bit. He also knows that with his Antiguan citizenship, a good performance at a combine which lands him at a team in Scandinavia will likely see him take the field in upcoming World Cup Qualifiers for the tiny Caribbean nation.

“I feel like I’m in a position that if I can get to Europe, I would have to be on the Antiguan radar for the World Cup Qualifiers coming up this June. I would love to play for Antigua in any official capacity.”

As for leaving his kids at Perkins to do so? It’s a rough thing to think about. Those kids are what makes Kamali happy, to keep him at peace on the field. He loves them, and he’ll probably return at some point. He wants to show those kids his appreciation, but not just them; all of his coworkers at Perkins who support him in his dream that he’s held onto since childhood: Being a professional soccer player.

“The first thing I’m going to do if I make a team is get a bunch of jerseys to send back to them. I know that if I left, I’d miss Perkins, and my kids would miss me a lot. But at the same time, everyone I’ve spoken with, my supervisors, my coworkers, they understand my dream, they’ve been nothing but supportive and excited for me. I want to make it just so I can send them something back, even if it’s just a picture.”