WASHINGTON -- After watching Alhaji Kamara score a dramatic match-winner seconds into his D.C. United debut, coach Ben Olsen insists he’ll continue to bring the forward along slowly.
Even if it means curbing his own excitement.
“It’s going to take weeks and months before we really see him at his best,” Olsen said this week. “So I’m kind of anxiously awaiting watching the guy too, just like everybody else.”
With his 86th-minute strike to seal United’s 1-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City Friday, the 22-year-old Sierra Leone international displayed a combination of physicality and instinct few United strikers have possessed during Olsen’s tenure.
“I think he’s going to be as physical a forward as we’ve had here probably since Eddie (Johnson),” Olsen said. “His ability to run in the box and be a threat behind, hold up play, is all something that we’ve been looking for.”
To do it for longer stretches, though, Olsen says Kamara needs to regain more of the fitness he lost after an extended layoff earlier that began with the discovery of a heart condition while playing in Sweden.
Since cleared by American cadiologists before his signing with D.C., he remains only a late option off the bench for Wednesday’s tilt against the Seattle Sounders.
“Not every game is going to make sense for him to go in late in the game,” Olsen said. “But we also have to push him physically throughout the week and make sure his base fitness gets there. And again, we’re doing, I think, a pretty good job so far of making sure he’s moving in the right direction but not pushing him too much so he doesn’t get any little nagging injuries.”
The timing isn’t perfect. Were it, Kamara’s training wheels would be off already during Alvaro Saborio’s Copa America commitments and Chris Rolfe’s continued presence in the league’s concussion protocol.
It may be a more crowded forward picture by the time Kamara is truly at 100 percent. But if he can create more moments like Friday’s, one ought not bet against him.
“There’s a few nights that I remember here with this club and through soccer, and that’s one I’m going to remember for a long time,” Olsen said of Kamara’s goal. “Because I know what he’s been through and how much this game means to him and how much he wants to play. And for him to have a night like that, it’s a special thing.”