HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls brought in Alejandro Romero Gamarra to be a spark plug, and on Saturday the Argentine midfielder did just that, spearheading the attack with a goal and two assists in a rousing 4-0 win over rivals New York City FC.
“Kaku” looked every bit the part, not just as a playmaker for the Red Bulls, but a true difference-maker. The 23-year-old was billed as someone who could bring creativity and flair to a Red Bulls side built around the team-first concept of a highly effective pressing game.
His scintillating performance in Saturday’s derby win points towards a growing role with the Red Bulls as he settles in with his new squad. He looked comfortable and dynamic in the final third, turning in his most complete performance in MLS play to date.
“I am not sure of other players, but yes, I have adapted quickly,” Gamarra said after the match via a translator. “That’s because everyone has welcomed me very nicely, and they are always helping me with the language and with things on the field.”
Kaku’s third goal of the season arrived in the game’s opening moments as he finished off a rebound after Bradley Wright-Phillips’ shot was saved in the 2nd minute. Just 90 seconds later, Gamarra turned provider, springing Florian Valot for a deflected finish that gave the home side a two-goal lead they never looked likely to relinquish.
“He’s a big difference-maker. He got a goal and two assists today. Every time he’s on the ball he’s really calm and played the right pass, the right time to set players up,” Valot said.
“He’s really a [No.] 10, scoring and assisting people. It’s really big having that kind of player right now.”
But Kaku is more than just a playmaker.
No moment personified Gamarra’s other attributes more than in the 34th minute, where he tracked back and stole the ball off NYCFC’s Yangel Herrera, rolling up his sleeves to make a selfless run solely for the purposes of a defensive play.
RBNY highly value workrate and fitness as part of their pressing and counter-pressing philosophy. So Kaku carries an extra burden wearing the No. 10 jersey with the Red Bulls – he must press high and hard in the defensive duties of his advanced midfield role, while retaining the capacity to make incisive plays on the ball.
His play in derbies while playing for Huracan was something that the Red Bulls brass picked up on while scouting the playmaker.
"We watched him play in derbies against San Lorenzo and Washington, excited for big moments, and that's something about the character of Kaku," Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said after the match. "He is one of the nicest kids. Like if you guys see him, he'll have a smile on his face, he'll shake your hand. He doesn't even know English quite yet but his personality, it's so -- he's just such a genuine, nice kid.
"But he has this edge to him that he wants to prove how good he can be and how good he is, and that blend of something was something we picked up early on when we met him."