OBETZ, Ohio – In Columbus, one Kamara has stepped into the shoes of another Kamara.
After trading star striker Kei Kamara to the New England Revolution last week, Columbus Crew SC have turned to Norwegian striker Ola Kamara – also of Sierra Leonean descent – to fill the rather large shoes of the team’s departed leading scorer.
Ola arrived in Columbus from Norway, where he spent last season on loan with Molde FK, who won their UEFA Europa League group before losing to eventual champions Sevilla in the round of 32. Ola was the team’s top goal scorer with 14 before returning to FK Austria Wien.
And while he understood waiting in line behind one of MLS’s most lethal goal scorers, Ola is ready for his chance.
“I came here to play,” he said. “I want to play, but I know Kei was a very good player for Columbus. I wish him all the best, because I like him as a guy, but it’s an opportunity for me. I hope I can take it.”
With plenty of experience under his belt, the weight of expectations in Columbus isn’t bothering Ola. He says he welcomes it.
“I’ve played for teams that have pressure before and I’ve played for my national team as well,” he said. “So the pressure is a part of the game. I’ve been a professional for ten years. This isn’t new. I think it’s exciting.”
Crew SC head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter admitted that it’s likely the team will bolster their striking options when the summer transfer window opens. But in the meantime, he says Ola will have a long leash to show what he – and veteran Conor Casey – can do.
Ola showed flashes of that potential in his first start for Columbus last weekend, a 1-1 draw vs. Colorado in which he put half of his four shots on target and came close to opening his Crew SC account. He will get another chance to impress when the team travels to Toronto FC this Saturday for a Trillium Cup clash (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
“We have to be fair to Ola,” he said. “We have to be fair and give him the time he needs, him and Conor both. It will take him a while to get in sync, but we’re patient. … We see that it’s a process and we trust in the process.”
His Columbus teammates have already joked that Ola should change his number to Kei’s 23 so that fans don’t have to buy new jerseys. But on the field, the players are a bit different. Berhalter says Ola will run the channels and move more, but the striker says he’s capable of some of the aerial goals Kei was known for.
“I think we have other options as well, because I’m a little bit different of a player,” he said. “But I also like crosses, and I can get on the end of the crosses as well. So I think it doesn’t change that much.”
And regardless of how the team uses him, Ola says he’s looking forward to seizing the opportunity.
“I was playing regularly in a club that was ranked number 30 in Europe and we did well in the Europa League,” he said. “I didn’t just come here to sit on the bench.”