Alejandro Romero 'Kaku' Gamarra - New York Red Bulls - celebrates
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Kaku "keeps cool," breaks scoring drought with clutch finish for Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. – If the New York Red Bulls were going to keep pace in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, they needed a difference-maker to step up. And the man they brought in this offseason to do just that came through on Sunday.

In a tight, chippy game, Alejandro Romero “Kaku” Gamarra provided the seminal moment, netting a slick second-half goal to give the Red Bulls a 1-0 home win over Atlantic Cup rivals D.C. United. For a player who has gone through a bit of a rough spell the past month, the goal was needed on a personal level – but it lifted a team also very much in need of a big moment.

Wednesday’s 1-1 New York Derby draw at Yankee Stadium against nine-man New York City FC felt more like a loss: A glorious chance to draw level with Atlanta United in the Shield race instead saw the Red Bulls tread water.

As they dueled a lively United side to a stalemate, it was beginning to feel like another ho-hum night for the Red Bulls. Then Gamarra stepped up with a moment of brilliance.

“Sometimes things don’t work out, you don’t get goals, you don’t get assists,” Gamarra told MLSsoccer.com after the match via a translator.

“You have to keep cool. The team supported me at all times, even when things got difficult. I’m thankful and I tried to give back to them something positive.”

The 56th-minute goal featured a bit of industry and a bit of the sublime, showcasing what makes Gamarra such an intriguing part of his team. The Argentinean – acquired this offseason at a reported Red Bulls-record transfer fee – took three touches to free himself and then, from nearly 20 yards out, fired home his first finish since a May 5th win over NYCFC.

It’s the fourth goal of the season for Gamarra, the league leader in assists (14), and comes after he hadn’t featured on the boxscore the last four games. Gamarra was fairly invisible against NYCFC at midweek but Sunday’s performance gives the Red Bulls hope that their playmaker can step up in key moments down the home stretch as his team hunts hardware.

“Today I’m really happy for him because he’s working hard also every day,” midfielder Marc Rzatkowski told MLSsoccer.com. “I know everybody expects goals and assists, but we know that he’s the guy that can play the last ball, the important ball. We know how important he is for us.”

Gamarra appeared none too pleased to be taken off in the 74th minute of last week’s 2-2 draw at Vancouver. But the Paraguayan international stayed the course in training and bounced back on Sunday night in a tough moment for his side.

“I couldn’t score but I had to keep my cool, try to help out in terms of the group,” Gamarra said. “Don’t worry about personal stuff so much, don’t get upset and leave everything on the field. I’m happy to have scored the goal and am focused on the next match.”