Projects in MLS have changed in recent years. They’re leading to a lot of success and entering a new phase in which sporting growth is the main key. Known as MLS 3.0, the competition has begun to focus on a series of players that increase the level of the teams and, in turn, allows them to gain market share beyond their borders. The vast majority of these are young South American players who are seeing MLS as an intermediate competition in which they can continue to grow to then make the leap to Europe.
There are many players who have taken this decision, and New York Red Bulls has been one of the teams that has joined this idea, betting on young players. The New Yorkers trusted a player from a humble club, with a humble origin and who since his arrival has been one of the best players in the team, Alejandro Romero Gamarra, better known as 'Kaku' Gamarra.
‘Kaku' arrived at the New York Red Bulls in the middle of the 2018 season and from the first game he had a great impact on the team. He gave the 'bullfighting' franchise that key item that was missing in the attack, he became that magical and decisive footballer who made a difference. A player with the capacity to create an imbalance in the matches and who would facilitate a victory for his team.
Our protagonist was born into a family of humble origins in Ciudadela (Buenos Aires) to which he is deeply rooted. Since he was a child, he knew that football was his thing and joined the lower divisions of CA Huracán, with whom he made his debut in the 2013 season. The player quickly made an impact on the team, making that 'magic' left foot a determining factor in the team's offensive play. So much so that he played an active role in the team's promotion to the Argentine Super League.
"I would like to play La Liga"
Already in the top competition of Argentine soccer, 'Kaku' (nickname that his youth trainer gave him to compare him with 'Kaka'), continued surprising to each season that passed, becoming one of the greater projects of Argentine soccer. Although his numbers were very high in terms of goals and assists, it was his participation in the team's play what made him a true danger near the box. He spent a little over five years at ‘El Globo', playing more than 120 matches in which he scored 14 goals and made 14 assists.
With these numbers under his belt, the player signed for the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in 2018, a move that raised great expectations among all New York fans. As with Huracán, his impact on the franchise was immediate and from the first game he responded to what was expected of him. Imbalance, magic and above all work in a year in which the team managed to win the MLS Supporters' Shield. His second year, his individual performance improved considerably along with his numbers, especially in assists, reaching six goals and 14 assists.
The playmaker has made 61 appearances in all competitions at the New York Red Bulls during the past two seasons, scoring 11 goals and giving 20 assists. These numbers fall short compared to the importance of the Argentine player in the team's game.
VAVEL had the opportunity to chat a few minutes with the Argentine player, answering some of the most significant questions of his stay at New York Red Bulls.
Question. This will be your third season at the New York Red Bulls, how do you face this new challenge? What are the goals for 'Kaku'?
Answer. Happy as always, facing this new preseason, happy to be back with the team. In this preseason we are trying to find the good game and to teach the new guys that are coming, the philosophy of the Red Bulls, in which the MLS Cup will be our main goal for this year.
Q. Every year the Red Bulls are placed as one of the candidates for the title and for one reason or another, they don't just take that step forward. Does this demand put pressure on the squad?
A. I think we all think about that. We always play well, we reach the semi-finals or finals, and we never take that final step forward. But I think it's a question of mentality, of thinking we can win. First, we have to focus on the U.S. Open Cup and then try to get to the MLS Cup.
Q. From your place on the pitch, what do you think would need to change to take that step forward and fight for titles again?
A. I think we need to do better in the MLS Cup Playoffs. For example, we had a very big gap with Philadelphia Union in the first half and we had to take advantage of that. I think those little things are the ones we need to improve on so that the same thing doesn't happen to us again.
Q. You went from winning the Supporters' Shield and marveling with your game to having one of the worst years the team has ever had. Which version of the Red Bulls will be seen this season?
A. We have to try to adapt as a team, to get to know each other better. Last year we lost Tyler (Adams), who was a very important player for us. But now with Cristian (Casseres Jr.) and Mark (Rzatkowski) we have to improve and add to that the return of (Florian) Valot, which is going to be very important for us. We have to come closer together as a team and I think we can win important things with that.
Q. Much has been said about your perfect position on the pitch and where your influence on the team is greatest, but it has never been clear. In Kaku's words, where is he most comfortable playing?
A. I like to play as a 10, behind the ‘nine’ or with two forwards. However, this year we will be playing in a new position to which I have to adapt and do my best to help the team.
Q. In two seasons in Major League Soccer, what are your feelings about the competition?
A. Very good feelings. I think MLS has grown a lot. It's getting better every day, a lot of big players are coming in and that's making the league grow a lot more and be seen all over the world. I think every team will demand more and more of us and that will be seen and followed around the world.
Q. With that in mind, what was the game you enjoyed most on the pitch?
A. Without a doubt against Carlos Vela's Los Angeles FC. I think it was the game I enjoyed most. They play very well and we did played an intense and pressure game, it was a very nice match. We lost, but it was a very intense game.
Q. Of all the players you've played against, which one surprised you the most?
A. I really liked Wayne Rooney and David Villa. I think the two of them, seeing them so close, how they play, the vision they have, surprised me a lot.
Q. In recent seasons, many young South American players have come to MLS as an intermediate step to a possible move to European football, also helping to raise the level of the competition. Do you think this synergy is the key to the growth of these players and the league? Would you advise more players to take advantage of this successful union that has been created?
A. Yes, I think a lot of players now prefer to go to MLS rather than Europe, because I think it's a very difficult adaptation to get directly there. It's not easy to go and play in Europe and do it directly in the first team. I think that coming to MLS is very helpful, they train you to be able to take the next step. An intermediate competition, yes.
Q. In relation to this issue, last season there was talk of their future and a possible transfer to the Mexican league. However, you have always expressed a desire to play in Europe. When you leave MLS, will it be Europe or Mexico?
A. I'd like Europe, but well, first I have to give the best version of myself this year and I think that after that everything will come together.
Q. Any particular league or team in Europe?
A. I really like the Spanish league because of the way they play and I think my football would fit in there. But if I could go to Europe, I wouldn't care which league I went to.
Q. You were trained in the Huracan youth system where you are one of the most beloved players, something you saw these past few months. What memories do you have of your time in Huracan and what did you learn there?
A. I learned a lot. I was trained as a person and always enjoyed what I do. The team was more or less like the Red Bulls, having spent some 40 years without being champions, but we won two titles in a row and a promotion to the first division. In this sense, it is very similar to New York Red Bulls, that love that people have for the players will help us get a title.
Q. There's a big cultural and footballing difference between Argentina and the United States. What have been the biggest changes for you from one stage to the next?
A. The possibility of forming a family. In Argentina you are with your parents, your brothers and sisters and here, for the first three months, I was alone. But then my wife arrived with my children. That allowed me to form my family in a country like the United States, which was very important for me.
Q. What attracted you most to MLS in deciding to take the step?
A. First New York. It's a beautiful city, a great club... When they came to pick me up, the way they treated me and the project they presented to me was what I liked most about getting here.
Q. This year will also see the start of the qualifying phase for the World Cup to be held in Qatar in 2022 and the Paraguayan national team has been out for the last two editions.
A. Yes, it's something that the country is asking for, something that everyone is asking for. We need to make ourselves strong as a home team. Getting points and trying to win the first few games to gain confidence will be important in trying to fight and make it to the World Cup. It won't be easy, but we all need to come together.
Q. This year will also be the Copa América in which your National Team will participate. Will a good result help you to face the World Cup qualification with confidence?
A. Yes, the first thing will be to try and find ourselves as a team. We have just gotten a new coach, who comes with his idea of football. We'll get to know each other better in the Copa America and in the qualifying matches, and it's going to be very important for us to try to get as many points as possible over the next two years.