Just two kids from Oslo: Kamara, Diomande set to square off in El Trafico

Split image: Ola Kamara - LA Galaxy - Adama Diomande - LAFC

CARSON, Calif. — Ola Kamara has meant to hook up with his old buddy Adama Diomande now that both reside in Southern California, but hectic schedules haven't allowed them to get together. Not yet.

That'll change Thursday evening (10:30 pm ET | ESPN - Full TV & Streaming info) when the 28-year-old Norwegian strikers tangle in the second El Trafico rivalry showdown between Kamara's LA Galaxy and Diomande's LAFC.

They go back a ways — they attended the same high school in Oslo for a spell, also an alma mater for former US national teamer Mix Diskerud and Kamara's Galaxy teammate Jorgen Skjelvik — and spent a couple of seasons together at Strømsgodset, and a reunion is in order.

“When he came here, he sent me a text and we talked about meeting up, because he has kids, too,” Kamara told MLSsoccer.com on the eve of the Banc of California Stadium clash. “Unfortunately, the schedule has been we've not been able, and he's living quite a far way away [from my South Bay home]. I hope we can do it soon.

“It'll be very nice to see him [on Thursday]. Hopefully we can win and smile after. I like him a lot. And he's a very good player. He's had a bit of a rough time [at Hull City] in England. I think he can check off that box of scoring in Premier League and playing in Premier League, but it seems like he's much happier here in LA.”

Diomande has scored nine goals in nine appearances for LAFC since Bob Bradley, who coached him at Stabaek, brought him in at the start of May. Kamara, whose career began at Stabaek, scored 34 goals in two seasons in Columbus and joined the Galaxy in December. He's got seven goals this year as LA, after a fitful start, has found their attacking rhythm in a 3-4-1-2 formation with Kamara teamed up top with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“I think it's funny,” Kamara said, “that you have two strikers for the two biggest teams in LA, and both of them are from Oslo.”

Kamara, who is four months older than Diomande and was a year ahead of him in school, had a very different experience growing up. Diomande, whose parents immigrated to Norway from Ivory Coast, lived in tough, immigrant neighborhoods in the capital. Kamara's father was a Sierra Leone refugee and his mother is Norwegian, and he lived across town in a more middle-class area.

Kamara during his youth played bandy, a hockey-like game played on a full soccer field, and was a competitive alpine skier, but he put all his focus on soccer as he hit his teens and made his first-team debut for Stabaek when he was just 16.

What followed was a decade of surges and disappointment, difficulties finding playing time, constant loan deals, and a return to Norway in 2015 after struggling to make it in Austria and Germany.

“I was a little bit scared when I went back to Molde, that I would never get out,” Kamara said. “Because when you're not successful twice, then maybe you get stuck in Norway the rest of your career.”

Kamara found the stints to the south — with 1860 Munich and Austria Wien — as educational as they were frustrating, especially the six months in Germany, where he scored twice in 16 games for the first and reserve teams.

“That was a good experience, because I saw how they train and how they think in Germany,” he said. “It's always good to get that different type of mindset. Somebody [might say], 'Oh, you failed,' but it was a big learning experience. As long as you're learning, it's always good.”

Kamara had won league and cup titles at Strømsgodset before heading abroad, and he impressed in a brief return to the club, with a dozen goals in 14 games, before heading to Vienna. Things didn't work out as he'd hoped, but Molde's success in the Europa League opened another door, and he chose to join Columbus Crew SC over offers from France and Spain.

Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter's personal attention was pivotal.

“Going to two previous teams where maybe it was the sporting director who wanted me most, and not the coach, I kind of learned from that,” he said. “And then Gregg was one of the guys that was calling me, and he knew me as a player. It seems like he knew how he would use me, and that reassured me that Columbus was the right place to go.

“Sometimes I feel you take the choices you think everybody else would take. But I knew what I needed, and [Crew SC] checked off all the boxes. l wanted an adventure, I wanted to play in a different league and a better league, and I also wanted to play for a coach that really wanted me. And that was Columbus.”

Kamara has been among MLS's best forwards since arriving, and it's had great impact on his international career. It paved his return to Norway's national team after a two-year absence, and his hat trick in a March friendly with World Cup-bound Australia opened eyes.

“When I go to the national team now, as compared with before, I feel like even on the international level, the [pace] is slower [than in MLS] ...,” he said. “I'm an off-the-ball-movement guy, and I'm lucky to play now with Ibra and Gio [dos Santos] and players that are very good with the ball and see space to put it into. That's a perfect fit. I'm talented that way, knowing the position to move into. That's my strength.”

Kamara and Diomande have 11 caps apiece, but have never been with the national team at the same time. That might be coming soon, given their form.

“We played a lot together [at Strømsgodset],” Kamara said. “Both on top, sometimes one striker and one winger. I know him very well, but I also feel like he's developed a lot from that time. He's stronger now, stronger on the ball, and he's an even better finisher, but I've always known he's a very good finisher.”

Kamara is pleased to see Diomande's early success at LAFC.

“I know the frustration when you're not scoring, when you're not playing in the position you're supposed to play, and it's heavy for a striker to walk around like that. And he comes to a new place and gets that kind of release or momentum — whatever you call it — and you get that first goal after not scoring for a long time, and it makes you feel good.

“It's like you can't do nothing else but score, and that's a great feeling, [especially] after maybe one or two years where maybe it hasn't been that good. I'm very happy for him.”