After brief Chinese odyssey, Ola Kamara excited about MLS return

Ola Kamara - D.C. United - close up

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Ola Kamara is back in Major League Soccer and ready to continue where he left off.

When Kamara signed for Columbus Crew SC prior to the 2016 MLS season, it's fair to say most fans around the league were previously unaware of the Norwegian striker. By the end of that season, after 16 goals from 25 appearances, he was a name on everyone's lips.

A strong 18-goal sophomore season earned him a move to the LA Galaxy, where another 14 goals followed suit. But with the striker keen to explore options overseas, the Galaxy sold Kamara to Chinese Super League club Shenzhen FC in February as part of a $3.5 million deal.

That should have been the last fans saw of Kamara in MLS for awhile, but things didn't pan out as planned in China. Less than six months later, the striker is back in the league having signed a three-year deal with D.C. United and being full of enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

"I actually never watched as much MLS as I did when I was in China," Kamara told after his return in a 1-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps last Saturday. "I enjoyed the league a lot. It's fun to play in and when it didn't go that well [in China], this was the league I wanted to go back to. Even though I had some other options, this is where I wanted to be and with the possibility of having a three-year contract here too, it made it easy"

Kamara's time in China may have been brief, but it was an experience he will always remember. From a playing standpoint, however, it was far from successful. He made only six appearances for Shenzhen, failed to score and only featured in one of the club's last 11 matches before his departure.

"I feel like it was just bad timing," Kamara said of the move. "It was a cool thing. The football is a little bit different. It didn't start off that good and it ended up like it did, but it's a cool thing to experience for players going over there. It's an experience for life."

Kamara came on as a late second-half substitute for D.C. last weekend, marking his first match action since June 16. The Norwegian replaced the man he will be expected to spearhead the United attack with, Wayne Rooney, in what is a potentially explosive, albeit brief, partnership in the making.

"The way that Rooney plays on the ball, he sees those kind of genius passes," Kamara said. "For me, to be able to play with him for a few months, I'm excited for that a lot, so hopefully we can get a good chemistry.

"[I'll bring] a lot of off-the-ball movements. I can create a lot of chances and be dangerous to our team all the time. Bringing intensity as well. Hopefully I can contribute with goals, so for me it's just trying to get us into the playoffs and then hopefully spark a run."

D.C. will need Kamara to be at his best in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race, especially with Rooney's imminent departure to England. Head coach Ben Olsen is confident the striker will hit the ground running, making an impact not just this year, but taking up the mantle once the Englishman departs in winter.

"Even in his short amount of time [against Vancouver], you saw what he does," Olsen said of Kamara. "His running, his work ethic, the way he maneuvers himself in and out of the box, is at a high level.

"Now we just need to get on the same page [with] some of the people that are providing him and he's got to understand what they're doing and they have to understand his movements. That takes a little bit of time, but he knows how to score goals and he'll be fine."