Crew Cuts: Kamara makes national team case for Crew SC's Norwegian contingentThe Columbus Dispatch — Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
April 20--It started early Sunday afternoon with a tweet.
After a fine defensive performance from Crew defender Nicolai Naess in the Crew's 2-1 win over Toronto on Saturday that earned him MLSSoccer.com Team of the Week honors, teammate and fellow Norway native Ola Kamara took to Twitter to pump up Naess.
In Norwegian, Kamara said Naess stopped two high-profile international-level players in Toronto's Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore then posed the question of if another Norwegian defender can do the same. He topped the tweet off with a pensive emoji and went on to say Naess' next competition at home will be another talented forward in New York City FC's David Villa.
Asked Tuesday if he saw Kamara's tweets, Naess laughed.
"Yeah, I saw it," Naess said. "It's a good teammate there who wants me on the national team."
While Harrison Afful and Jonathan Mensah (Ghana) competed in the Africa Cup of Nations prior to the season, Wil Trapp and Kekuta Manneh (USA) earned invites to the USMNT's January Camp, Cristian Martinez (Panama) participated in the CONCACAF U-20 Championships and Jukka Raitala recently joined Finland's national team for a World Cup qualifier and a friendly, Naess and Kamara didn't have similar luck with Norway's national team.
Neither was included on the roster for a March World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland. Naess, 24, has yet to make a national team appearance and Kamara, 27, has made just seven appearances for Norway, his last coming in 2014.
It's still very early in the 2017 MLS season and Norway does not have another World Cup qualifier until June. But presented with the idea of Naess and Kamara possibly being candidates for international duty in the future, Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter said, "I hope so."
"I hope that the coach is watching them and monitoring them," Berhalter said. "I know that (Norway head coach) Lars Lagerbach, he looks for a certain profile in his players and I'm not sure they fit that profile, but I think they're doing well, they're playing at a high level, higher in my eyes than the league in Norway, and so it should get noticed."
Naess said national team experience is a dream for any player.
"I've never been on the national team for Norway and so that would be fun to get that experience," he said. "If I'm called, I'm ready. I hope the coach is watching MLS. We have a striker here in Columbus (Kamara), too, scoring goals, so I think the coaches in Norway have to look over the sea and look at this league as well."
The squad Norway used in its 2-0 loss to Northern Ireland featured players exclusively from European clubs, including six from English Premier League sides, two from the German Bundesliga and six from Norwegian topflight teams. Kamara (four goals in 2017) and Naess are both former Tippeligaen players.
Kamara, 27, built his case Wednesday by listing a few MLS players with a significant amount of past international experience, including Seattle's Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay) and LA's Giovani dos Santos (Mexico).
"And then U.S. players (from MLS) are playing for a highly-ranked national team and we are ranked (No. 86) in the world and me and Nico can't play (for Norway)?" he said. "It's weird, but of course we have good players in Norway as well. It's a goal for both of us, I think."
Continuing his argument in favor of Naess, Kamara reiterated what Berhalter said Tuesday: the MLS Eastern Conference is a gauntlet for center backs, one in which Naess has so far fared well.
"For Nico, he gets top international class," Kamara said. "You maybe saw my tweet, but I tweeted that (Naess) did well against Giovinco and Altidore, two big-name guys, and then the next home game is against David Villa. If you play well (against Villa) also, you should be a candidate for the national team."
When the latest iteration of Norway's national team was announced, the MLS season had just started. Many European leagues had passed the midway point of the season, meaning players were likely sharper.
"So it wasn't that strange that we weren't in there," Kamara said. "I think maybe we're candidates for this one (in June)."
If Naess and Kamara can continue their production, Berhalter agrees.
"I think these coaches now, every Norwegian abroad is on their radar and they're looking and monitoring what they're doing," Berhalter said. "My guess would be if (Naess and Kamara are) playing at a high enough level and they're performing well enough, they'll be in contention."
Center back Jonathan Mensah, who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury, participated in team drills for the "majority" of Wednesday's practice, Berhalter said. He ran off to the side during the open media portion of practice.
"We topped him off with some fitness," Berhalter said. "He's looking good."
Rookie fullback Connor Maloney did not participate in practice after going down with an apparent head injury late in Tuesday's practice.
"I think he has a headache or a concussion," Berhalter said. "We have to check exactly how we're terming it, but he took a knock to the head."
Asked if Maloney is undergoing concussion protocol, Berhalter said, "I'm not sure exactly what it is, but I'll check today."
Berhalter, forward Adam Jahn and winger Niko Hansen joined Crew player development and Acura representatives Wednesday outside Linden Park Neighborhood Early Childhood Education Center to help with construction of a community garden.
The project, in which the Crew's Give Forward program partnered with Columbus City Schools and nonprofit Local Matters, is part of MLS Works' Greener Goals Initiative Week of Service.
The garden is intended to be used as an educational space to promote sustainability and food security.
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