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Ola Kamara’s home debut a bright spot for struggling D.C. United

United’s newcomer drew praise after standing out against the Red Bulls

MLS: New York Red Bulls at D.C. United Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

D.C. United’s loss on Wednesday to their archrivals, the New York Red Bulls, understandably left fans and players in a sour mood. The result itself, United’s continuing tumble down the standings, the dubious nature of the game-winning goal, Wayne Rooney’s red card, and some perceived time-wasting tactics from the visitors all conspired to leave anyone associated with the Black-and-Red struggling to make their feelings felt without swearing.

However, on a largely negative night, United at least got one silver lining in Ola Kamara, who had an impressive display in his home debut. The club’s biggest signing in this past transfer window was dangerous despite spending most of his 69 minutes up front alone in a 441 that Ben Olsen opted for once his side were reduced to 10.

“I thought he had a great game. I thought he was the best player on the field,” said Olsen. “His hold-up play was better than I imagined. The goalscoring stuff, we know he can do that. His work rate is contagious. It’s really nice to have a forward that can score, stretch the line, and put the work in, the miles in that he can [run], it really helps the guys behind him.”

That “goalscoring stuff” involved an audacious curling shot from the left side that left Luis Robles with no chance:

“I was excited to play at home for the first time, in front of the crowd. To be able to score a goal like that, it felt great. Of course, I would have liked it to be a result where you get a point or three points, so in that way it’s a little disappointing,” said Kamara after the game. “I want to get points again, I want to help the team climb up the table.”

On a night where United needed another goal, Olsen’s choice to withdraw Kamara was tough, but probably necessary. However, Kamara’s last club match before his transfer was back in mid-June (a 0-0 draw between Shenzhen FC and Tianjin TEDA). Though he has been training with a typical in-season rigor since then, Olsen said he was taking a view towards making sure Kamara can avoid injury down the stretch. United faces the Philadelphia Union today, just under 70 hours since their Atlantic Cup clash ended.

“It wasn’t a sub because he wasn’t in good form and we didn’t think he could get a goal. It was a sub because we didn’t want his hamstrings to pop. We need him for the rest of the year... With the quick turnaround and the fact that he hasn’t had a lot of 90-minute games over the last couple months, we’re in that red zone where it’s a little scary.”

Kamara, as is often the case with players, said “I wanted to play the whole game tonight! I wanted to get another one. [My] body actually felt great,” but offered no signs of disagreement with the choice.

Kamara, aside from the goal, won three fouls and completed all three of his attempted dribbles. Most notably, though, he and Paul Arriola formed an instant bond, routinely combining along the right flank.

“In my opinion Ola was the best player on the field, from the first minute,” asserted Arriola, who echoed Olsen’s sentiment. “I thought that the chemistry between him and I was free-flowing, and we saw a lot of success, whether it was flicks in behind, or him controlling it and playing underneath. There were times when he was running into my position, when I made a long run, to defend. When you have a teammate like that, they make everything easier.”

Kamara said that his past observation of Arriola from afar left him with a good understanding of what the USMNT winger would do. “Especially with Paul, I’ve seen him play a lot. I think he’s a very, very good player. I also like to play with players who always look for the space, look to go [forward], because that gives me more space as well. So I kind of knew how to play with Paul, but I think still we can work on where he can play me the ball, where I can play him the ball.”

Kamara was quick to add that he didn’t feel like Arriola is the only player he’s formed a quick bond with. “I’m gonna try and build on chemistry with all the players. I think a couple of balls from Felipe today were great for me.”

Arriola perhaps summed up the team’s feelings on their new striker best: “I’m extremely excited to continue playing with him. I think he’s a fantastic player. Bright, smart, athletic, technical, and he can do what he did tonight: score an amazing goal.”