It’s said that good things come in threes. It’s also said that the third time’s the charm. On Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, Ola Kamara offered two proofs for the price of one. In just his third start of the season, all coming after the trade of 2015’s 22-goal-scorer Kei Kamara, 2016 newcomer Ola recorded the first Columbus Crew SC hat trick in a dozen years, propelling the Black & Gold to a 4-3 victory over Real Salt Lake.
Kamara’s historic night started out easy enough. After Justin Meram abused the RSL defense on the left flank, he sent a ball across the goalmouth. Kamara ran onto it and slammed it into the net from just a few yards away, tying the game at 1-1 in the 17th minute.
“The first one was a really simple goal,” Kamara said. “I just had to be there. It was an unbelievable assist.”
The second goal gave Crew SC a 3-1 lead in the 64th minute. Kamara placed himself on the end of a pinpoint cross from Waylon Francis, who had entered the game just a minute before. As the cross whipped in from the left flank, Kamara deftly nodded the ball back inside the left post, wrong-footing RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando as he made his way across the goalmouth to center himself for a potential header.
On 48 other occasions since Edson Buddle torched the MetroStars (now Red Bulls) for four goals on September 18, 2004, that is where the story ended. 21 different Crew SC goalscorers hit the mystically-enforced two-goal maximum. The Black & Gold Lack of Hats Curse has been going on so long that, back when it started, the Curse of the Bambino was still a thing. Heck, Crew SC clinched three Supporters’ Shields (and an MLS Cup) since Buddle’s big night, meaning they recorded a Supporters’ Shield hat trick but not a standard three-goal hat trick. Strange world, this is.
Kamara put all that to rest in the 74th minute when he headed a Federico Higuain corner kick with such force that the ball zipped through Rimando’s normally reliable hands, caromed off his noggin, and nestled into the side netting. It gave Crew SC a 4-1 lead and put Kamara in the record books. Finishing off the hat trick and getting the win was a relief for the man who has been thrust into the spotlight after the trade of his goalscoring namesake.
“It was a weight off my shoulder, of course,” he said. “I felt really good today before the game and I felt like I was going to score. Since the last game against Toronto, I have been feeling better and I felt like the chemistry is better between all the players, so I felt today was the day and I got the hat trick, which is an unbelievable feeling.”
After his post-trade starting debut two weeks earlier, several players mentioned that Kamara makes excellent and intelligent runs. After the three-goal performance, Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter echoed those sentiments when asked if his evaluation of Ola Kamara went into the decision to trade Kei Kamara.
“I think you have to make an educated decision,” Berhalter said. “Watching Ola in training and watching his movements, we felt very comfortable. It’s difficult as a striker when that pressure is put on you, but Ola has been handling it extremely well.”
“I always want to play,” Kamara said when asked about that pressure. “In soccer, you always have some kind of pressure to score, the striker always does, but I can live with that and I wanted to play.”
Kamara wanted to play, but Crew SC defender and captain Michael Parkhurst isn’t so sure he would have wanted to play against Kamara on Saturday night.
“His movement all game was very good and it was nonstop,” Parkhurst said. “Being a defender, I can only imagine what it was like going against him for 90 minutes because it was hot out here and it was taxing, but he just kept running behind the back line. It’s tough for the defense and I’m glad he was paid off for all his hard work.”
Kamara not only credited his teammates for his success, but also noted that his increasing familiarity with his home and the league as a whole had him poised for a breakout night.
“Now I know a little bit more about MLS and I’ve played in this stadium before,” he said. “You feel like you’re at home. You feel the crowd. You feel the energy, and I feel like the chemistry with the guys is better. If I was even sharper today, I could have scored maybe five, six goals. The assists I got today were unbelievable and I could’ve scored more.”
Kamara logged ten shots, seven of which were on goal. Rimando saved a breakaway attempt. In another memorable flurry, Rimando robbed Kamara with a diving stop, then Kamara’s tight-angle rebound shot hit the post.
“Credit to him for scoring three,” said Justin Meram, “and discredit to him for not scoring six.”
Meram’s winking comment elicited a laugh from Kamara’s locker, where he held the game ball awarded to him after the match.
Three Kamara goals, not six, were all that were required to beat Real Salt Lake. Also, per ESPN Stats & Info’s Paul Carr, those three goals were enough to make Kamara the first Norwegian to ever record a hat trick in MLS.
When apprised of his place in Norwegian MLS history, Kamara smiled and said, “I think it’s nice to go into the history books, of course. I’ll take that!”
After 12 years of hat-trick-free soccer, so will Columbus.