8.30 Bernie

FRISCO, Texas – Bernard Kamungo’s journey to FC Dallas and Major League Soccer reads like the plot of a feel-good sports movie.

It feels too good to be true.

Born in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in Tanzania, Kamungo didn’t learn to play soccer with a ball. Or any ball you’d immediately recognize.

“We didn’t have the money to buy a soccer ball,” Kamungo remembers. “We had to make our own ball by figuring out a way with bags, or something, to just make something that looks like a ball. And then me and my friends could go in the street and play against other people.”

Back then, Kamungo didn’t dream about playing professionally. The bright lights and manicured fields of that level seemed too distant to be touched. He had to focus on where he was.

“All I was trying to do was just to survive,” he said. “Playing soccer was just for fun.”

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Bernard Kamungo and his older brother, Imani (top left) while living in the Nyarugusu Refugee Camp

Kamungo’s luck changed as he entered his teenage years. With the help of the International Rescue Committee, he and his family emigrated to Abilene, Texas. He had few possessions and little English, but none of that mattered. Kamungo was happy with the basics.

“It was amazing for me because right when we got to Abilene, my family could actually get something to feed us. And that was all I was looking for. Back in Tanzania, it was kind of hard for your parents to find something to feed you. Sometimes you just eat once a day and that was it. But when we got to Abilene, I started eating like normal, now I could eat three or four times a day, whatever I wanted. It got better right away.”

One of the few things Kamungo didn’t leave behind in Nyarugusu was his love for soccer. He began playing for his middle school’s team before starring for Abilene High School. His talent stood out to everyone, except Kamungo himself: “Back then, I just never saw myself becoming a professional soccer player.”

Kamungo’s older brother, Imani, thought differently. He saw a raw talent who just needed a nudge in the right direction.

“I believed he could be even better but he couldn’t trust himself,” Imani said. “So I pushed him every day.”

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In early 2021, during Kamungo’s senior season, Imani found a link for North Texas SC’s annual open tryouts and signed up for his younger brother. Kamungo was hesitant at first, worried it wasn’t worth the $100 entry fee Imani paid on his behalf.

“(My brother) helped me out really because he paid for the trial and all I had to do was attend and do what I do. That’s one thing he told me, ‘I just I want you to go there. I just want you to be on the field. If you can do that for me, that’s all I can ask for.’

“I just thought about my whole family. I wanted to see how far I can go to help my family. In the trial, when I stepped on the field, (I remembered) what he told me, ‘Just think about your family, think about where you came from.’ And that’s what motivated me, that’s what pushed me.”

Imani’s investment and unwavering belief paid off as Kamungo was invited to the club’s preseason training. Soon, he was offered a contract.

Two months after the tryout, Kamungo subbed into his first pro game and scored a few minutes later.

It was a whirlwind. Kamungo hadn’t yet graduated high school and there he was, a few months removed from playing for Abilene High, scoring under those bright lights he'd never dreamt of.

“That goal made me cry,” Kamungo admitted. “I cried but I don't think anybody noticed because I was sweating. Scoring that goal meant a lot to show me how good I am and how far I can go with my talent. From that moment, I've seen myself as a professional.”

Kamungo finished his rookie season with a respectable six goals. And, now immersed in a professional environment for the first time, Kamungo’s development soared. North Texas SC’s coaches helped add a ruthless streak to his game. Blessed with speed and a natural ability on the ball, Kamungo has since blossomed into a potent finisher in front of goal. The 20-year-old’s 13 goals ties him for third-most in MLS NEXT Pro, the reserve league of MLS.

It wasn’t long before Kamungo’s performances and goals caught the eye of FC Dallas’ top brass and he was rewarded with a first team contract. From high school soccer to Major League Soccer within 20 months. It’s an unprecedented rise.

“I have no words to describe this moment right now,” Kamungo said. “This is all you can ask for as a professional. You want to take your game to the next level and I think mine is going the right way. I’m just proud of that.”

“I wanted to make sure he reached the top level but I never knew it would be so fast like this,” said Imani, whose faith in his brother kickstarted it all. “It’s a surprise for me. I’m just happy I was able to help my brother. It means a lot to me.”

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It feels too good to be true.

A refugee playing high school soccer attends an open tryout, paid for by his brother who believes in him more than he does himself. He earns a contract. He scores a goal on his professional debut. One year later, he’s the team’s top scorer. And now, he plays for FC Dallas, in the top league in his adopted country.

“How is this possible? Every single time I ask myself. I would sit at home and in my head I'm like, ‘How is this possible? How did this just happen so quick?’ This is just unbelievable for me. I never saw myself growing this quick to this level. And then especially for FC Dallas to recognize me and take my game and teach me more. It just It means a lot to me, really.”

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Bernard Kamungo (center) alongside his older brother, Imani, and FC Dallas President Dan Hunt