HANOVER, N.J. — It was music to Chris Armas’ ears.
In the lunch room after training recently, the New York Red Bulls coach heard his star midfielder “signing like a bird.”
“I called him a paloma,” Armas said.
The response from Kaku, who was signing Alicia Keys’ “New York” — in English — was perhaps more aesthetically pleasing for Armas than the song itself.
“Yo estoy contento,” Kaku said.
It was a moment Armas referenced in the team meeting the next day.
“There’s a real confidence and a sharpness and ease to what he’s doing right now,” Armas said.
A happy Kaku is a productive Kaku and the Argentine-born playmaker has one goal and two assists in his last three games, helping the Red Bulls climb the Eastern Conference table with just one loss in their last eight games, including five straight unbeaten.
“I’m very happy,” Kaku said through a translator. “I didn’t start in the best of ways, but I was able to get better the last few weeks.”
Kaku was singing a different tune early in the season. He and his agent publicly criticized the Red Bulls for a failed preseason transfer to Club America in Liga MX. There was the in-house discipline that resulted in Kaku being left off the gameday roster against the San Jose Earthquakes for what Armas called a “minor internal issue.”
And then came a moment of petulance at Children’s Mercy Park when, out of frustration, Kaku booted a ball into the stands, striking a Sporting Kansas City supporter. The result was a red card and an additional two-game ban.
Kaku’s mentality could have gone south again when he was left off Paraguay’s roster for this summer’s Copa America in Brazil.
Instead, the 24-year-old took a personal day to process the disappointment and he’s used the snub as added motivation.
“I took the day off because when someone tells you that, you get very sad,” Kaku said. “I’m very young, I’m going to keep working, keep playing for the Red Bulls and hopefully I’ll get a chance at the next Copa or during World Cup qualifying.”
That’s good news for the Red Bulls, although Armas said he and the club are disappointed for Kaku.
“He wants to be on the roster because he loves competing, he loves playing, he loves the opportunity to be on the big stage with the best and against the best,” he said. “That’s where he wants to be so for that, he’s disappointed and so are we for him. Do I think it will motivate him? Yes, I do. Because he’s not afraid of a challenge.”
Kaku feels he’s playing like he did at the start of last season, when he led the league in assists — with 14 in his first 19 games.
“Now I just try to be calm to take things slowly,” Kaku said. “Chris tells me I have class, I have to keep it at my feet to try and find the space in order to provide the assist. That’s what’s happening right now. I want to continue providing assists in order to get more assists than last year.”
As far as his singing goes, Kaku quips it’s not his best attribute.
“I’m better at providing assists, actually,” Kaku joked.