HomeSportsOpportunity knocks for USMNT's Bernard Kamungo, others ahead of Slovenia friendly

Opportunity knocks for USMNT’s Bernard Kamungo, others ahead of Slovenia friendly

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It remains to be seen which player will emerge as the biggest winner from the national team’s January camp, which concludes with Saturday’s friendly match against Slovenia in San Antonio, Texas (kickoff at 3 p.m. ET).

But the player who has the best story? That’s easy. It’s 22-year-old FC Dallas winger Bernard Kamungo.

For most professionals, reaching the international level is the dream. Kamungo’s dream eight years ago was only to find his next meal. Born in a refugee camp in the African nation of Tanzania, Kamungo and his five siblings were simply trying to survive.

“If I woke up the next day,” Kamungo said in an interview last year, “I thanked God for that day.”

His diversion was soccer, which he played for hours on end with a makeshift ball — clothes wrapped in plastic bags.

Everything changed when the International Rescue Committee helped Kamungo and his family relocate to Abilene, Texas, a city of 125,000 about 180 miles west of Dallas. Slowly but surely, he settled in his new home, learning English and eventually becoming the star of his high school soccer team. Midway through his senior year, Kamungo’s older brother scraped together $90 for him to attend an open tryout for North Texas SC, the reserve side for MLS side FC Dallas that was also the first pro stop for United States men’s national team regular Ricardo Pepi.

Kamungo survived the cut and, 22 goals later, FCD offered him an MLS contract. He hasn’t stopped scoring since. In just over 800 minutes of action last season, Kamungo found the net eight times in 24 MLS and Leagues Cup matches — including one against Lionel Messi and Inter Miami.

Now Kamungo is among 16 players in the current U.S. camp who could make his international debut against the Slovenians.

“It’s unbelievable, looking back only a few years ago to where I came from to where I am now and everything that happened,” Kamungo told FOX Sports ahead of the contest.  “I think about it sometimes and I get emotional. I’m so thankful.”

Kamungo became an American citizen in 2022. He committed his future to the U.S. program last year after being called up by Tanzania for an African Cup of Nations qualifier.

“It was a hard decision, but it was also easy,” he said. “I’m fully in.”

Scheduled outside a FIFA window and therefore limited mostly to out-of-season MLSers, January exhibitions are usually instantly forgettable slogs for the USMNT. Just seven players on the current roster have represented the senior national team before. Miles Robinson’s 27 caps lead the squad. Shaq Moore is the lone member who was also on the 2022 World Cup team a little more than a year ago.

But January camps also have a proven track record of producing at least one new player who sticks with the varsity for years to come. There’s no shortage of intriguing candidates this month, Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender and Real Salt Lake midfielder Diego Luna among them. Kamungo, one of 12 players in camp who is also age-eligible for this summer’s Olympics in Paris, is also right up there.

“The kid just has a knack for scoring goals,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said of Kamungo, who first appeared on the program’s radar early last year following a glowing recommendation from FCD boss Nico Estevez, Berhalter’s close friend and former assistant.

“He gets in front of goal, and he’s very effective,” added Berhalter, who compared Kamungo’s finishing to USMNT star Christian Pulisic’s. “Those are qualities you can’t teach.”

You can’t teach desire, either. Kamungo has plenty of that.

“I’m always hungry,” he said. “Growing up, I never really had the opportunity to do anything, so every time I’m given one I’m always ready to take it. Opportunities like this don’t come often.”

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Kamungo arrived in camp nursing an ankle injury but says he’s now fully healthy. He’s made an impression on the veterans, both on and off the field.

“He’s a good guy and a hard worker,” Robinson told FOX Sports last week. “He likes [passes] in behind defenders and he likes to shoot, so he’s definitely a dynamic forward who can score if he gets the chance.”

That chance could come on Saturday; Berhalter said Friday that as many as 14 of the newcomers could play. What would making his first USMNT appearance in his adopted home state mean to Kamungo?

“Obviously there’s quite a few things that have happened to me the past few years, but it would be my proudest moment,” he said. 

“I’ll be ready for sure.”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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