Kaku (right) celebrates a goal with Bradley Wright-Phillips in the first half. (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
HARRISON, N.J. — Appearances can be deceiving.
Take, for example, Alejandro Romero Gamarra.
He looks like the boy next door, someone who will greet you with a smile. But in reality, the man also known as Kaku can be an assassin on the soccer field.
Just ask New York City FC, which was burned several times by the 23-year-old Argentine native Saturday.
In his best all-around game as a Red Bull, Kaku was at his lethal best, scoring once and creating two other goals in the 4-0 romp over the team’s rivals at Red Bull Arena.
That wasn’t surprising to head coach Jesse Marsch, who, along with sporting director Denis Hamlett, watched Kaku when he played in derby matches for Huracán against San Lorenzo and Washington while scouting him last year.
“Excited for big moments, and that’s something about the character of Kaku,” Marsch said. “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,” Marsch said.
In the Red Bulls’ victorious locker room, Kaku was all smiles as he was at his public relations best.
When it was mentioned to him that he was named man of the match, Kaku replied, “It’s great to be recognized that way, but like I always say it’s thanks to the team effort because they allow me to play with freedom and I am adapting quickly which is good for everyone.”
Marsch decided not to start Kaku during the club’s CONCACAF Champions League knockout-round run because he claimed the Argentine hadn’t adapted to the team. But Kaku has done that, just fine, thank you.
“I am not sure of other players, but yes, I have adapted quickly,” he said. “That’s because everyone has welcomed me very nicely, and they are always helping me with the language and with things on the field.”
Exhibit A occurred in the fourth minute, when he set up Florian Valot with a precise, quick pass for the team’s second goal after a quick turnover.
“Everybody can see that Kaku, every time he’s got the ball, that he’s thinking forward, forward, forward,” Valot said. “You just make a run and you know where the ball is going to land. So, I was making the run without looking where he was going to put the ball and the ball just came to my feet. It’s really easy to play with him. You know those balls are coming you just have to set the run and the ball just – it’s kind of like with Sacha last year.”
As in Sacha Kljestan, who, despite 37 assists over the past two seasons, who was traded to Orlando City SC to make room for Kaku.
Kljestan definitely had his moments in the derby. Now, it’s Gamarra’s time.
It sounds like the Huracán-San Lorenzo derby only prepared Kaku for the Hudson River Derby.
“The thing is that the one in Argentina is more complicated because it’s a street derby and the people are crazy. I won it there many times and now here, so I am very happy.”