Soccer stars Kamara and Skjelvik find Norwegian audience in Penn.
Members of the Philadelphia NACC felt mixed emotions as they cheered for the Norwegians playing against their home team
The Norwegian American
Like their Viking forebears, they battled the elements. Wind and rain that knocked down the canopy for the tailgate party; building a grill; communally gathering around the grill to prevent the fire from going out, and perhaps to get a whiff of heat against the cold. This was before the Major League Soccer game between the Philadelphia Union and Los Angeles Galaxy on July 21 at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Penn., outside Philadelphia. Almost 15 members of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia warmed themselves with jokes to watch the Union, and support Norwegians, striker Ola Kamara and defender Jørgen Skjelvik, and “tease” Swedish and international superstar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he of the 5.29 million Twitter followers, who toil for the Galaxy. Once inside the stadium, the Norwegian fans occasionally broke out in Norwegian soccer chants.
“It’s always cool when Norwegians come to our games,” said Kamara, 28, after scoring a goal in the 3-1 victory before an announced overflow crowd of 19,013 people. “It’s something special when that happens, a little bit of Scandinavia.”
“We heard about it 4-5 days ago and talked about it all week,” said Skjelvik, 27, a 6’, 170-pounder from Bærum. “It’s Norwegian heritage. They’re proud. We appreciate it.”
The Galaxy had their worst season last year at 8-8-18. They averaged 1.32 goals a game, but allowed 1.97. They turned to Scandinavian talent for help. Kamara came from Columbus in a trade in January. Last year, he scored 18 goals for the Crew, fifth in the MLS, following a 16-goal season in 2016, eighth in the league, one of only six players to finish in the top 10 in both campaigns. The Oslo native played for Molde, Strømsgodset, Hønefoss, and Stabæk (at 16) in Norway, FK Austria Wien, TSV, and 1860 München (Germany). Now, he’s in the bright lights of L.A.
“There was adjustment to everyday life,” said Kamara. “I enjoyed my two years in Columbus. We went to the finals. I scored a lot of goals. Then, I got to come to a club like the Galaxy. I have to enjoy it.”
Skjelvik transitioned from Trondheim and five years with Rosenborg.
“Everything is different, the lifestyle, the soccer, the weather,” he said. “It’s been six months, and I like it so far. Ola has been helpful. I knew him before. We talk about everyday stuff. He knows the league as well by playing here three years. That has been a help.”
Kamara scored in his first game with the Galaxy against Portland, March 4. After going scoreless against New York City FC on March 11, he returned to Oslo and scored a hat trick as the Norwegian national team beat Australia 4-1 on March 23.
“Playing for my country is an honor,” said Kamara. “It’s tiring physically with the travel, like last week we were in Boston, went back west, and came back east this week. You have to take that negative energy and make it into positive energy.”
On the same day, back in L.A., the Galaxy were signing the 36-year-old 6’-5”, 209-pound Ibrahimovic. On April 11, despite having scored one goal in four games, Kamara was signed to a three-year contract.
“That was a big surprise,” he smiled.
Entering the Union game, the Galaxy had a six-game unbeaten streak and were coming off a dramatic rally against host New England, scoring two goals in stoppage time for the win—without Ibrahimovic.
The Union took the action to the Galaxy for most of the first half and keeper Andre Blake made some big saves. In the 29th minute, CJ Sapong got his foot on a feed from Czech Republic native Bořek Dočkal and deflected the ball off L.A. keeper Dave Bigham’s hands into the net. Dočkal played for Rosenborg from 2011 to 2013.
Three minutes into the second half, the tenor changed. Most of Kamara’s goals have seen him sneaking behind defenders, taking crosses in front of the goal, and one-timing shots. Ibrahimovic slipped a ball through three defenders to Kamara, breaking into the box. Blake came out, but Kamara managed to hit the ball off and over Blake, into a wide-open goal to make it 1-1. Ibrahimovic would score the game-winner on a blast from inside the box in the 62nd minute.
“Zlatan’s a world-class soccer player,” said Kamara. “I learn a lot from him. I haven’t experienced playing with such a player. Today, I played off him on the goal. He gave me a fantastic ball and I was one-on-one with Blake. He’s a very good goalie. I was able to knock it over, luckily score the goal.”
“Zlatan’s a big personality,” said Skjelvik. “You can always tell the state of the room. He’s a funny guy to be around. He always jokes, makes fun of people, so I enjoy it. He’s a great soccer player.”
Skjelvik is acknowledged as the strength of the Galaxy defense and has played every minute. He’s also chipped in two assists.
“I try to keep control in the back, prevent the goals,” he said. “We’ve been up and down as a team. We’re on a good streak now and have to try to keep it up, keep developing.”
Since that game, the Galaxy extended their unbeaten streak to nine games before losing to Colorado 2-1—without Ibrahimovic—Aug. 4 on a 90th-minute goal. On July 26, the Galaxy scored twice in the last eight minutes, the second by Kamara, for a 2-2 tie with LAFC. On the 29th, they rallied past Orlando City 4-3 with Ibrahimovic scoring a hat trick in 24 minutes. The Galaxy tied Minnesota United 2-2 Aug. 11 and Colorado 2-2 Aug. 14, lost to Seattle 5-0 Aug. 18, and are tied for fifth (10-7-9, 37 pts) in the west with Portland. Kamara has nine goals and one assist. Ibrahimovic has 15 goals and seven assists.
Neither Kamara nor Skjelvik would predict Norway’s chances for World Cup 2022, knowing the qualifying road is long, though Skjelvik noted, “We have a lot of good young players coming up.”
The “tusen takk” after the interview caught Kamara off guard.
“Ha det bra,” he smiled.
This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.