Rooney is gone now, having retreated to England for the last act of an extraordinary career. In doing so, he left a large void that United has entrusted to Kamara.
“I am a guy who always wants to be in the box, always wants to be dangerous, always want to score goals,” he said this week at training camp on the Gulf Coast. “That is the type of guy I am.”
Kamara, 30, scored 34 goals in two years with the Columbus Crew and 14 in one campaign alongside Ibrahimovic. Five appearances with United yielded three goals.
United signed Kamara to replace Rooney, spending $2.5 million on a transfer fee. They overlapped for two months, but because of Kamara’s hamstring injury and Rooney’s red-card suspension, they started together just once (totaling 24 minutes before the Englishman was ejected against the New York Red Bulls).
This year, the striker’s job belongs to Kamara.
“It’s an important preseason to set him up to succeed,” said Coach Ben Olsen, who must integrate several other new attackers. “If we do that, he will have a lot of success. Some of the guys we brought in will help him do what he does, which is put up big numbers. And that is what we need from him.”
Specifically, United needs Kamara to offset the loss of Rooney’s production (23 goals in 48 MLS matches) and forge bonds with newcomers Edison Flores, Julian Gressel and Yamil Asad, as well as holdover Paul Arriola.
“His game is as simple as that: He will get into the box and score goals for you,” said midfielder Emmanuel Boateng, Kamara’s teammate in Los Angeles and Washington. “That is what he does.”
Guarded with reporters, Kamara said he did not want to compare his skill-set to Rooney’s or how his role in United’s system might differ from his predecessor’s.
“I didn’t see enough to compare since I was in China,” he said.
Kamara is a different type of forward, one who will require more service than Rooney, who often created opportunities (15 assists in 2018-19) and struck a mean free kick.
Kamara, though, is capable of facilitating for teammates. In Los Angeles, with Ibrahimovic stationed at the point of the attack and averaging almost a goal per game, Kamara played wide and underneath.
In the preseason opener Tuesday, a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Impact in Tampa, Kamara set up Asad for a golden opportunity just before halftime. (The Argentine midfielder failed to finish the chance.)
That said, his role with United is clearly defined.
“He is not here for his versatility,” Olsen said. “I’ve used that word a lot with some of our players, but he is not one of them.”
Even if Olsen wanted to use Kamara elsewhere in the formation, he couldn’t. At the moment, he is the only forward under contract in camp.
Estonian Erik Sorga, 20, is sorting out a work visa and should arrive by this weekend. Josh Fawole, a second-round draft pick from Loyola (Md.), played the second half Tuesday.
Sorga, though, lacks the experience of Kamara, who, before coming to MLS, played for 1860 Munich and clubs in Norway and Austria. He also has scored seven goals for the Norwegian national team and, with a strong start to the MLS season, could return for friendlies this spring or summer.
Although United is counting on him to score, Kamara said he does not feel any pressure. Regardless of the situation, he said, “I still have to have the same approach I have had every year — to score goals.”
Both Kamara and Olsen believe the influx of midfielders will raise the overall quality of the attack, which, besides Rooney, lost Luciano Acosta and Lucas Rodríguez. (Those two combined to score 12 times last year.)
Flores, a $5 million acquisition from Mexican club Morelia, starts for the Peruvian national team. Gressel, acquired in a trade with Atlanta last week, averaged five goals and almost 12 assists in a three-year tenure in Atlanta. Asad, in his second tour with United, had nine goals and eight assists for D.C. in 2018.
“If I am at a good number and two or three players are up there, that is good for the team,” Kamara said. “Sometimes it is not all about one guy scoring all the goals. Maybe we are able to bring other players into it. If others are scoring, it’s going to be good for everyone.”