Apr 14, 2018; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence (92) and Montreal Impact defender Chris Duvall (18) fight for the ball during the second half at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
HARRISON, N.J. — New York Red Bulls fans clamored for his long-awaited signature and then, when he finally joined their club, for the young Argentine to step on the field.
But Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch brought Alejandro Romero Gamarra along slowly, drawing criticism for not including the new No. 10 in his starting XI against Chivas de Guadalajara in the Concacaf Champions League semifinals. Saturday afternoon, Gamarra — known as Kaku — offered a glimpse of what the future might bring when he scored his first MLS goal in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact at Red Bull Arena.
“This was Kaku’s best game by a mile, and he’s worked hard to try to understand tactically what we’re trying to get out of him.” Marsch said. “He’s worked hard to understand now what the reactions are, where he’s needed, what kind of final plays.”
The Red Bulls spent a club record $6.25 million transfer fee because of Kaku’s creativity. But the 23-year-old also fits the club’s system, as he showed against the Impact.
In 82 minutes Saturday, Kaku had 63 touches, completed 31 of 46 attempted passes, won seven of 13 duels and had six recoveries.
And oh yeah, he scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, a left-footed stunner that landed in the upper right corner of the net in the 57th minute.
“Scoring is always a unique sensation, especially if you score in front of the people who come to support you,” Kaku said through a translator. “That’s very much beautiful.”
Setting up the goal was Bradley Wright-Phillips, who also set up Kaku for his goal in a 3-1 victory over Club Tijuana in the CCL quarterfinals. That budding partnership will be critical going forward for the Red Bulls.
“We need to make sure that they understand each other’s tendencies and movements and that they are clear with what kind of relationship we want them to have,” Marsch said.
Wright-Phillips said a lot of what Kaku did Saturday, with and without the ball, has been what he’s seen in training.
“He’s not just a quality player on the ball, if you really watched his game, his reactions, he’s closing down, he’s willing to work,” Wright-Phillips said. “Before talent on this team, you need to be willing to work. To find a No. 10 that is not only good on the ball, but work as hard as he goes, it’s very lucky. Once he starts getting more games, he’s going to our most dangerous player.”
Wright-Phillips also scored just five minutes into the match as the Red Bulls (3-2-0) capitalized on a Montreal defensive miscue to take the early lead. Florian Valot picked off a poor square ball by Victor Cabrera and played through Wright-Phillips, who took a touch before scoring his fourth goal of the season from 16 yards out.
The Red Bulls were buzzing from the opening kickoff and nearly tacked onto their lead a few moments later, but then concentration lagged and Montreal (2-4-0) got back into the game. The Impact leveled the score in the 33rd minute off a golazo from Jeisson Vargas, who placing his free kick from nearly 30 yards out over the Red Bulls’ five-man wall and inside the right post.
“We had a good first half, but then we didn’t create any chances in the second half and it was difficult to compete against a good team,” Impact coach Remi Garde said. “They have a good team, many players that can come in and strengthen the team in the second half. That’s what they have done.”
The Red Bulls’ mentality and level of player rose after halftime and they put the game away. After Kaku’s goal, Michael Murillo tapped in a low cross from Kemar Lawrence that snuck through a maze of bodies at the back post for Murillo’s first goal of the year in the 76th minute.
It was just a positive reaction for the Red Bulls after crashing out of the Champions League in a maddening 0-0 draw with Chivas Tuesday night.
“We needed a reaction and a bounce back from a game like that and show the fans we’re still a good team and we’re going to show up and play like we play,” Wright-Phillips said. “And today in the second we’ve done that.”
Hear Jesse Marsch’s entire post-match press conference below