HARRISON, N.J. – In his first taste of MLS action, recently-signed Argentinean midfielder Alejandro Romero “Kaku” Gamarra showed flashes of the poise, skill and decision-making ability that made him the most expensive transfer in New York Red Bulls history.
Playing centrally, Gamarra assisted on the opening goal in the Red Bulls’ 4-0 home win over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night. Perhaps most impressive, however, were his work rate, grit and defensive bite, all important attributes in RBNY’s system.
Midway through the first half, Kaku made a hard 60-yard run to cover space when Portland attempted to break out on the counterattack following a clearance of a Red Bulls corner kick. Gamarra's tracking back helped nullify a potentially dangerous opportunity as Portland pushed forward with numbers (watch the play below).
Beyond his precise passing and presence on the ball, that moment of dogged defensive work is in many ways what the Red Bulls want most from their new No. 10, who now has two RBNY appearances under his belt, having also participated in their home win over Olimpia in the CONCACAF Champions League two weeks ago.
“Listen, everyone here knows that Kaku is a great player. The best part for me is that every day he's trying to figure out how to fit into our system, how to now understand what we do a little bit clearer,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “This game vs. the second Olimpia game, he looks like more of a Red Bull player. He fits into the tactics more.
“We're only three weeks into our time with him, and we know that it's only going to get bigger and bigger and better and better. So the excitement of his ease of slowing plays down, of seeing finally what we do … you know, the whole play on the first goal was fantastic, but his pass was spot on.”
Gamarra, who said postgame that the process of integration is coming along “little by little,” will eventually be expected to replicate the production of Sacha Kljestan, traded this offseason to Orlando City. In doing so, he aims to replace a midfielder who just contributed arguably the most productive three seasons of any creative midfielder in MLS history.
While Saturday admittedly offered a small sample size, the early returns look good. On the 18th-minute opener, Gamarra was fed down the left channel by Derrick Etienne before delivering a beautiful low cross to the back post for Ben Mines to finish from close range.
Given the start as part of the Red Bulls’ squad rotation ahead of Tuesday’s CCL Leg 2 quarterfinal match vs. Tijuana (8 pm ET; UDN, go90.com), Gamarra looked very good with a young lineup around him, and tucked in centrally rather than out wide, where he played primarily in Argentina.
“To be honest, it’s very different because over there, I had to play out wide and there wasn’t a lot of space,” Gamarra said. “You get kicked a lot more. There is more space here and I’m playing more on the inside.”