Michael Kafari: “It was kind of cool. I was here a week ago and I’m back again.” (Photo courtesy of the Cosmos).”
Life sometimes throw us some intriguing curves, sometimes for the best.
Take, for instance, the case of Michael Kafari.
One week he was the enemy, playing against the Cosmos in the playoffs, a week or two later he was a member of the team.
When ASC San Diego was eliminated by the Cosmos in the National Premier Soccer League semifinals in July, the 27-year-old midfielder thought his soccer season was over. San Diego, which was supposed to participate in the NPSL Founders Cup, had dropped out.
Kafari, however, decided to reach out to former Cosmos defender Jonathan Borrajo, who did color commentating on the game.
“The next day I get an email from Jonny that said, ‘Call Carlos. He wants to talk to you,’ ” he said. “I gave him a call. He told me he was interested. He wanted me to get out as soon as possible.”
Which he did, joining the team on Aug. 17.
“It was kind of cool,” Kafari said. “I was here a week ago and I’m back again. Even Artie [Verdi], the equipment manager, said, ‘I remember you. Welcome.’ ”
“He was always a difficult player to play against,” said Mendes, adding that Kafari had a “great mentality, a hard-working player. He did well for San Diego, giving them a balance that helped them to get to that point in the playoffs. I had a conversation with him after the [playoffs] and I loved his attitude. Speaking to him, I thought he would be a good fit.”
Kafari knows something about packing your bags and traveling because he has done that his entire life, which started out in Ghana.
When he was three-years-old, his mother and father won a special immigration lottery to move to the United States. While his parents established themselves with jobs, Kafari and his older sister stayed behind with family. Michael and his sister emigrated when he was eight.
“We couldn’t come over yet,” Kafari said. “So, they’re working, going back and forth [to Ghana].”
Simon and Martha Kafari moved to Arizona, where Michael’s father attended Arizona State to earn his master’s degree in business. By the time, the sibling’s paperwork had come through, Kafari’s parents had moved to Boise, Idaho because Simon was hired by Hewlett-Packard. Michael and his sister came over when he was eight.
Now, Boise, Idaho will never be confused as the soccer capital of the world, let alone the United States, but it sufficed as an early training ground for Kafari. He grew up playing soccer in Ghana.
“It’s the main sport there,” Kafari said. “It’s kind of like baseball here, football. You go to a park, you don’t see a baseball, you see a soccer ball. Naturally, that’s the sport I picked up.”
He said he started off playing in a Boise recreational league “just for fun.”
“I realized I was good at it and just kept with it,” he added.
Kafari helped his Centennial High School team capture the 2009 5A state championship while earning first-team all-conference honors his junior and season years. He also played for the Boise Nationals Soccer Club.
That opened the door at the University of Mexico, one of the most competitive college sides in the nation. The Lobos reach the NCAA Division I first round once, the Sweet Sixteen twice and the Final Four in Kafari’s senior season.
“It was awesome, awesome,” Kafari said. “It was a bunch of blue-collar guys who were overlooked, good players, but for some reason they weren’t recruited very highly. We were a good team. When you’re a good team, everything is easy. … I’m not going to say that it was given to us. We really had to work for it. We earned it. It was a good program. I loved my time there. Still keep in touch with all the guys over there.”
Kafari was chosen by Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the third round (51st overall) of the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, but was loaned out to the Charleston Battery in what today the USL Championship. He eventually signed with Sporting Kansas City before hooking up with Puerto Rico FC (North Americans Soccer League) in 2016-17.
His travels have given Kafari a unique perspective of the U.S., having lived in the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, South, Southern California, the Caribbean and finally New York.
“The country is so diverse, so different everywhere you go,” Kafari said. “I realize it’s good people everywhere. It’s not just they’re nice in the Pacific Northwest, they’re very homely in the South. It’s good people everywhere.”
Before joining the Cosmos, the 6-1, 175-lb. Kafari performed for Motala AIF in Sweden for the 2018-19 season.
“As a country I loved it there,” he said. “It was clean. People were nice, friendly. I really enjoyed my time there. It wasn’t really too much going on there, which is kind of how i like it. It was kind just mellow.”
Motala, however, was everything but that on the field. The fourth division side was dominated by 18- and 19-years-old.
“I played was on a team that had a lot of youth players that they were trying to build up, potentially trying to get some value off of them so they brought in five or six more experienced guys to help the team,” Kafari said. “They wanted to showcase their youth to the rest of the league. As you can imagine, as a midfielder with a lot of young players, a lot of turnovers, a lot of transition, a lot of running, but they treated me pretty well over there.”
In April, Kafari joined ACS San Diego, which enjoyed a remarkable run in the NPSL playoffs, winning all three of its games on the road.
“There were some tough games,” he said. “We went to Seattle. There was a terrible field. Hot. Won in penalties. Then went to Arizona. Kickoff was 101 [degrees]. Won there and then we came out here.”
Kafari started the Cosmos’ 2-0 victory at the Michigan Stars last weekend.
So, was he surprised that he wound up in the Starting XI so early?
“Yes and no,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here [Mendes] told me his view and his goals for the team and said that I would fit right into things,” Kafari said. “And even before I got here, chatting with him over the phone, it sounded like he was pretty high on me coming in, going right into the lineup. There are a lot of great players on the team. Everyday you’ve got to come in and earn a spot. It wasn’t just given.”
Kafari hopes to start the Cosmos’ next game, as they host Napa Valley 1839 FC at Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale, N.Y. on Saturday at 7 p.m.