HANOVER, N.J. – Ola Kamara is seemingly playing a game of chess out on the soccer field, the Columbus Crew striker willing to be the forgotten man for 89 minutes but he’s fully capable of needing a single opportunity to pounce on and score.
It is this lethal ability to be invisible for much of the match that makes him a danger for the New York Red Bulls, who will host Kamara’s Crew on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.
Last year, Kamara scored 16 goals for the third-worst team in the league in Columbus. This year, he’s been on fire with four goals already in seven matches.
But it isn’t just about him getting the ball in the back of the net that is impressive. He plays an entire game of cat and mouse just to get to that point.
He’s a player who is sneaky, willing to float out of the game, stand in an offsides position and then pounce when the time is right. He tries to lull defenders to sleep, then makes one move and is sending the ball into the back of the net.
“Since Gregg’s been there, they’ve created a lot of chances as well. Keeping track of him is important and not letting him lull you to sleep – he can be sort of quiet for a big stretch of the game and then he can have a hat trick,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “That’s the key with him is with all the other moving parts that they have within the game, you can’t forget about keeping track of Kamara.”
Four goals in seven games is a torrid start. Even more impressive, he’s scored those four goals on just eight shots. That’s a prolific scoring rate for a player brought in by Crew head coach Greg Berhalter last year.
Set to turn 28 years old, Kamara has had plenty of success in Austria, Germany, and Norway before coming to MLS. This offseason, he generated interest from teams in England looking to bring him in on a loan deal.
It will be a tall order to contain Kamara, although the Red Bulls backline has conceded just a single goal in the past two games.
Kamara is efficient and Columbus has played a more direct style this year, which can be tricky for a Red Bulls team that likes to press high up the field.
“He’s very tricky, a player that is very, very good in the box. When he has one opportunity, he can score,” Red Bulls defender Aurélien Collin said on Thursday. “We are going to have to be very, very disciplined. As a striker, he’s trying to make [us] forget about him. Then after one play, he’ll be in a very tricky position to score. We’ll have to be very careful with him.”
Midfielder Gonzalo Veron was in training on Thursday and his hamstring injury appears to be healed.
“Gonzalo’s trained every day and he looks like he’s ready to go,” Marsch said.
Injured in early March, Veron has yet to play this season. Saturday could be the first time he makes the gameday squad.
On Mike Grella, Marsch said “we have real positive signs” as the player continues to train and do fitness work. An injury suffered last year in the playoffs to his knee region is apparently healing up. He’s made a couple appearances this year before taking a month off to rehab the injury. Grella likely won’t be available on Saturday.