Ola Kamara followed last month’s Pyeongchang Olympics closely, as most Norwegians do.
“Was it 39 medals? Fourteen golds,” he bragged, ticking off the vital numbers from Norway’s record-breaking performance. “It’s fantastic what the athletes have done.”
But national pride might not have been the only thing the Galaxy striker felt as he watched the Winter Games. There also might have been a tinge of regret because as a boy growing up in Oslo, Kamara was an accomplished alpine skier whose own Olympic aspirations were cut short at age 13.
“You had to make the choice if you’ll do soccer or downhill,” said Kamara, whose best event was the super-G.
It’s hard to argue he made the wrong choice. Since debuting with Norwegian club Stabaek at 16, Kamara has played for eight teams in four countries, scoring 11 or more goals six times. A trade in January brought him from Columbus to the Galaxy, a team that will take the field for its MLS season opener Sunday trying to turn around a rapid downhill journey of its own.
The Galaxy and the Portland Timbers will be the last teams to kick off on the league’s opening weekend, meeting at the StubHub Center at 7 p.m. (FS1).
The Galaxy are coming off the worst season in franchise history, one that saw them go 8-18-8, finishing last for the first time while setting records for most losses, most goals allowed (67), fewest points (32) and fewest home victories (three). Those are all trends coach Sigi Schmid, who joined the team last summer, is trying to correct.
Schmid discarded half his roster this winter, and as a result, his starting lineup Sunday likely will include six players who weren’t on the team when he came aboard last July. And Kamara, whom the Galaxy spent most of the fall trying to acquire, is likely the most important of those additions.
The Galaxy struggled for goals in 14 games under Schmid last season, scoring just 14 times and getting shut out in six matches. Their 45 goals overall was their lowest single-season total in seven years.
Kamara, 28, acquired in exchange for Gyasi Zardes, is expected to change that. He had 34 goals in the last two years with the Crew; only three MLS players scored more over that span. And in a preseason that saw the Galaxy win only one of five games against MLS competition, Kamara led the team with three goals.
“There’s always pressure,” Kamara said of his role in the spotlight for one of the league’s marquee franchises. “I’ve been dealing with that for, this is my 13th season, so it’s OK.”
Schmid’s offseason makeover also brought in three new goalkeepers, led by starter David Bingham, two defenders in Jorgen Skjelvik and Rolf Feltscher, and midfielder Perry Kitchen, who may have been the team’s best player in the preseason.
The veteran-laden roster fits together well and is at least two deep at every position, a marked departure from last season’s disastrous experiment with youth. Yet despite all the new faces, Kamara said it’s a team that has found harmony in the locker room.
“It’s such a positive environment,” said Kamara, who spent part of the final week of the preseason on a round-trip flight to Sweden to complete work on a successful green-card application, a move that got the Galaxy in compliance with league rules, which limit teams to eight international roster spots. “Everybody’s very confident. We believe in each other.”
Finding chemistry with that many new players has been a challenge, said Schmid, who believes a fast start is vital for erasing the memories of last season.
“The history of the Galaxy is that it was always one of the top teams in the league. And we want to be that again,” said Schmid, who in 2002 led the franchise to the first of five league titles. “We want to establish our home territory and that starts with our game on Sunday.
“What we need are a couple of good results to solidify our confidence. Any time you don’t do well, there’s a little bit of doubt that creeps. But I’m also confident that this group is going to be able to change that.”
Goalkeepers: David Bingham, Brian Sylvestre, Justin Vom Steeg
Defenders: Hugo Arellano, Michael Ciani, Ashley Cole, Rolf Feltscher, Tomas Hillard-Arce, Emrah Klimenta, Dave Romney, Daniel Steres, Jørgen Skjelvik
Midfielders: Romain Alessandrini, Emmanuel Boateng, Servando Carrasco, Jonathan dos Santos, Baggio Husidic, Perry Kitchen, Ariel Lassiter, Sebastian Lletget, Joao Pedro, Chris Pontius
Forwards: Giovani dos Santos, Bradford Jamieson IV, Ola Kamara