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SSFC Spotlight: Bernard Kamungo vaults into 2024 Olympics picture

The 21-year-old dual-national attacker is having another fantastic year.

SOCCER: SEP 02 MLS - FC Dallas vs Atlanta United FC Photo by Austin McAfee/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There is an old adage that talent can come from anywhere, as the best soccer players are not always reared in prestigious academies. In order to take full advantage of the potential talent pool, footballing nations must provide avenues to enter the system, develop abilities, and advance up the ladder. After immigrating to the United States, Bernard Kamungo was able to break into the professional game through an open tryout, taking full advantage of his opportunities. The 21-year-old FC Dallas attacker is currently the subject of a minor tug of war between two national team programs.

Born in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Kigoma, Tanzania after his parents escaped civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kamungo grew up playing soccer with wadded-up bags, hospital gloves, and old clothes – occasionally skipping school to work as a salesperson to earn money – before relocating to Abilene, Texas with his family at the age of 14; the move enabled him to receive proper nutrition for the first time in his life. He competed with the Abilene High School Warbirds, earning District Offensive MVP and Midfielder of the Year honors. In the midst of his senior season, the attacker pursued a professional career, which led to a tryout with FC Dallas’ reserve side, North Texas SC, and a spot in preseason training camp due to displaying “high-level individualism, skill, and savvy.” The club signed him to a two-year professional contract in March of 2021, citing the potential to “become a top-level player.”

“Before we went to North Texas there was another tryout for $500,” his brother, Imani, told Striker Soccer News. “I told Bernard, ‘I’m going to pay $500 so you can do this tryout,’ but Bernard was scared because that’s a lot of money. I was saying, ‘It’s my money and I trust you. I know you can do it,’ but Bernard was scared. I tried to go on Google again and found the other [less expensive] one for North Texas... Some days you live without eating food, the next day you need to go and find food. Bernard, soccer was his life. Even though he didn’t eat one day, the next day, someone would tell him, ‘We need to eat’ and another person said, ‘We should go play soccer,’ he will choose soccer over the food.”

In his first season, Kamungo contributed six goals in 23 total appearances in USL League One. He earned USL League One Player of the Week in October after notching a brace in a 4-1 victory over New England Revolution II. The club helped in the pursuit of his citizenship, “sending letters of support and pushing for expedition,” which would open doors to more professional and international opportunities.

In 2022, North Texas SC moved to MLS Next Pro and Kamungo had a breakout season, registering 16 goals and five assists in 25 matches en route to earning Best XI honors. The club promoted the “game-changer” to a first-team contract, signing him to a four-year deal but noting that there would be an adjustment process to the higher speed of play. His MLS debut came close to the end of the season, appearing for 20 minutes as a substitute in a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes.

After starting the season with the reserve team, Kamungo scored the game-winning goal in his first MLS match of the year. Following a stretch of substitute appearance, he picked up four starts and caught fire in the Leagues Cup, contributing two goals and three assists, helping to reach the Round of 16. Despite dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of the lineup for a few weeks, the attacker has put up a total of six goals and three assist in 24 total fixtures and was named to the league’s 22 Under 22 list of promising young talents.

Having reached the professional level and proven his value, Kamungo still feels an intense drive to succeed. “In high school, I slept whenever I wanted and ate whatever I wanted, but here, you have to keep your head straight and be ready to go physically at all times,” he shared recently. “It’s a lot to process. I was somebody who had nothing. And now that I have something, there’s a lot of pressure on me. I can either help my family or lose everything I have. That’s a lot of pressure, but I can handle it, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come for me.”

A dual national, Kamungo was invited to the Tanzania senior national team in June for a 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Niger. However, he was left out of the match-day squad while awaiting his passport. More recently, the United States called him into U-23 camp for friendlies against Mexico and Japan, terming the opportunity “a dream come true.” His assist to Obed Vargas secured a 2-1 victory over El Tri; a few days later, another helper, this time to Paxten Aaronson, on the second goal pushed the squad to a 4-1 win.

A versatile left-footed attacker, Kamungo is capable of playing winger, striker, and outside midfielder. FC Dallas manager Nico Estévez praises the hard worker as “powerful” and “a really good finisher” with “great speed.” His intelligent movement and quick thinking allow for him to catch opposing defenders by surprise, exploiting open space in the final third. Jacek Kulig compares him to Cameroon attacker Bryan Mbeumo and notes high levels of “pace, acceleration, and bravery.”

Despite having received an opportunity to enter the traditional soccer pathway a few years ago, Kamungo enjoyed a quick rise up the ladder. He has taken full advantage of the open doors and demonstrated his potential use to the USMNT program. Regardless of the size of the existing depth chart, there is always room for another electric attacking talent, particularly one who can stuff the stat sheet. The upcoming Olympic Games provides an intermediate step for someone at his level, bridging the gap for new talents before potentially entering the senior team.