Eight top foreign-born players that Kenyan can still turn to ahead of 2026 World Cup qualifiers

© Imago.

STARS ABROAD: Eight top foreign-born players that Kenyan can still turn to ahead of 2026 World Cup qualifiers

Joel Omotto 07:00 - 11.09.2023

Harambee Stars are preparing for a grueling 2026 World Cup qualification campaign and there are a number of eye-catching talents born abroad that coach Engin Firat can entice.

Harambee Stars head coach Engin Firat has defended his preference for foreign-based players ahead of his team’s upcoming friendly matches against Qatar and South Sudan amid criticism for overlooking players from local clubs.

Firat gave a call-up to 17 foreign-based players in his squad with 10 local-based for the two matches and he feels that is not even a lot given some of Kenya’s rivals have only one or two from the local leagues.

With Stars set for a grueling 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers that include meetings with Ivory Coast, Gabon, the Gambia, Seychelles, and Burundi, Firat might need to dig even deeper in the pool of foreign-based players and there are a number of eye-catching talents born abroad whom he can choose from besides the 17 given the nod for the September friendlies.

Nabi Kibunguchy

Born in California and raised just south of Sacramento all his life, Kibunguchy is the son of a California Department of Transportation engineer and a nanny who emigrated separately from Kenya to the United States when they were teenagers to attend college and met in their new country.

The defender has just secured a transfer to Orlando City SC on a short-term agreement from Orlando City B.

Kibunguchy has appeared in 23 matches, making 22 starts and playing the second-most minutes of the team with 1,944 minutes played for Orlando City B so far this season since joining the club at the beginning of the year.

Nabi Kubunguchy of Orlando City.
© Orlando City.

The defender has scored four goals, including a brace in the club’s 2-2 shootout victory over NYCFC II. Kibunguchy has also manned the Lions’ backline helping the club earn three clean sheets in the 2023 campaign.

Orlando City B signed Kibunguchy prior to the 2023 season. The defender was originally drafted by Minnesota United FC in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft as the No 18 overall pick out of UC Davis.

The defender, who first visited Kenya in December 2021, has dual citizenship which makes him eligible to play for Harambee Stars.

Bruce Kamau

At the end of his deal in July 2021, Kamau joined Greek Super League club OFI Crete on a three-year contract after scoring 10 goals in 64 games for Western Sydney.

One-and-a-half years later, he was loaned to Melbourne Victory until the end of the 2022-23 season after which he sealed a permanent switch to Perth Glory last month.

Even at 28, the winger, who can also play at wing-back is eligible to play for Kenya given he has not turned out for Australia at senior level having managed five appearances while scoring two goals for the Under-23 team.

Linton Maina

The winger, who can also play as an attacking midfielder, was born in Berlin to a Kenyan father and a German mother.

The 24-year-old honed his skills at Hannover 96 where he made 91 league appearances, scoring 11 goals before switching to FC Koln in 2022.

He signed a three-year contract for Koln and became an instant hit, scoring three goals while providing eight assists last season.

Linton Maina of FC Koln.

Maina was a key member of the squad as he played in 33 matches and he looks to still have the trust of his coach who has fielded him in Koln’s first two Bundesliga matches of the 2023-24 season.

Having played for Germany at all junior levels, Maina is yet to feature for the senior national team which makes him eligible for a call-up to Harambee Stars who can benefit greatly from his offensive play and creativity.

Zech Obiero

Son of the Kenyan former footballer Henry Obiero, the 18-year-old is another midfielder Harambee Stars can turn to, if they so wish.

Zech Obiero of Leyton Orient.
© Leyton Orient.

Obiero, who was born in England, is a product of Tottenham Hotspur's youth academy, and joined Leyton Orient's academy at the age of 14.

He signed a two-and-a-half-year professional contract with Orient in February 2022. He had appeared as an unused substitute in the EFL Cup tie with Queens Park Rangers in August 2021.

He made his senior debut for Orient in the League Two match at Crawley Town in April 2022, which Orient won 2-0. However, after failing to nail down a starting place, he was loaned to National League South side Cheshunt in January  but returned to his parent club in July.

Tyler Onyango

The 20-year-old was born in England to a Kenyan father and English mother.

The Everton midfielder looks to have a bright future after making the team for his club’s opening four Premier League games this season, coming off the bench in the 4-0 defeat to Aston Villa.

The central midfielder is good at reading the game, blessed with pace as well as skill, and is also athletic. His physicality is also another attribute that might have impressed Everton coach Sean Dyche.

Onyango spent the second half of last season on loan at Burton Albion but looks ready for the big stage and Kenya could benefit given he has only turned up for England at the U17 level.

Silko Amari Otieno

The winger is currently without a club but his talent is immense. Otieno was among 13 players released by Chelsea at the end of last season.

In January, Otieno was on trial with Sheffield United, as the Blades were looking to snap up another promising young talent but the move did not materialise.

The 19-year-old is predominantly a wingback who can play on both sides and has contributed to the U21 side at times at the Bridge. He possesses good speed and agility to create goals which can held the Kenyan course given he has never featured for the Three Lions.

George Gitau

Right-back is one position Harambee Stars have struggled with for some time and the 20-year-old can perhaps help solve the problem in the near future

Having featured for the junior teams of Arsenal and Crystal Palace with a spell at Brighton and Hove Albion in between, the Middlesbrough U21 defender is known to be athletic, blessed with pace, and good on the ball which ticks all the boxes for a modern-day full-back.

With Eric ‘Marcelo’ Ouma bombing down the left and GItau doing the same on the right, Harambee Stars can benefit greatly by having full-backs who add to their attacking threat, especially in the grueling 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

Gitau is eligible for a Kenyan call-up as he has never featured for the senior England side.

Jonah Ayunga

Born in England to a Kenyan father and an English mother, the forward, who currently plays for Scottish Premiership side, is eligible to feature for Harambee Stars having never represented England at any level.

Jonah Ayunga celebrates a goal for St Mirren.
© Imago images.

The Brighton and Hove Albion academy graduate is currently injured and could be the reason he was not called up for the September friendlies having first been called to the Kenya national team in August 2016 and again in 2018 but is yet to feature for Harambee Stars.

The 26-year-old scored seven goals in 24 games in all competitions for St Mirren last season and could perhaps add another dimension to Kenya’s attack.