The Washington Post

Ola Kamara’s hat trick guides D.C. United to a 3-0 home victory over the Chicago Fire.

- BY STEVEN GOFF D.C. United at Atlanta United Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Univision

On his way off the field Wednesday night, well after he had recorded a first-half hat trick and received a standing ovation during D.C. United’s 3-0 victory over the Chicago Fire, Ola Kamara posed for photos with fans and the team photograph­er.

He held up three fingers, signifying his scoring tally. If he had felt like taking it a step further, Kamara would have been justified raising all 10 fingers and perhaps wiggling some toes — because no one in MLS is scoring at his torrid pace.

With three goals in a 35-minute span, the Norwegian striker surged to the top of the league scoring race and helped United take another step forward in the Eastern Conference’s congested standings. He converted two penalty kicks and added a header just before intermissi­on before an announced crowd of 13,524 at Audi Field.

United (10-10-4) moved into fifth place — just four points out of third — heading into a key game Saturday at Atlanta (8-7-9), which is on a 6-1-0 tear.

Kamara has scored in three straight matches and nine of his past 11 appearance­s to raise his total to 16 and pass Seattle’s Raúl Ruidíaz (14) on the MLS charts. Five of D.C.’S past seven goals have come off his feet or head; overall this season, his goals have been on just 21 shots on target.

“If you want to compete for the playoffs, you need a scorer,” Coach Hernán Losada said. “In this case, we have Ola. We depend a bit too much on him, but very happy with his performanc­e, with his efficiency. . . . He’s doing great. It’s very important for us, and today he showed it once again.”

Kamara’s hat trick was the first by a D.C. player since Wayne

Rooney’s early in the 2019 season.

“Right now, it’s rolling,” Kamara said. “I’m constantly just thinking positive and thinking about the next opportunit­y. It’s a good feeling.”

The victory also marked the return of goalkeeper Bill Hamid, who missed six starts, the first four because of a hamstring injury and two for coronaviru­s concerns.

United had missed Hamid’s shot-blocking abilities and presence in anchoring the defensive effort. Although he had appeared in just 10 matches, he began the night leading the league in goals against average (0.76) and now has six shutouts.

The supporters’ section chanted, “Bill, Hamid, Bill-bill Hamid,” over and over. Hamid was emotional after the final whistle; injuries and illness have sidelined him for long periods this season.

“I’m thankful that vaccine helped me to not have symptoms that were so bad,” he said. “For a short little period, it felt like it was going to get bad. The vaccine helped me to at least not feel so bad during that quarantine time period.”

His first touch was not a great one, conceding possession, but he redeemed himself with a superb save in the first half and several interventi­ons on crosses throughout the match.

Hamid was not the only player to return. Andy Najar and Júnior Moreno rejoined the lineup after being on internatio­nal duty with Honduras and Venezuela, respective­ly. Edison Flores (Peru) came off the bench in the second half.

United set the terms against Chicago (6-13-5), which has been blanked or held to one goal 17 times. In two prior meetings, United labored to a 1-0 home victory and needed a late two-goal rally to escape Soldier Field with a point.

On this night, though, early aggression paid off when Yordy Reyna slotted a through ball to Kamara in stride infiltrati­ng the penalty area. Carlos Terán tugged him down from behind. Referee David Gantar did not hesitate in pointing to the spot, and Kamara converted in the ninth minute.

The counteratt­acking Fire found wrinkles in United’s resistance. Luka Stojanovic redirected Miguel Ángel Navarro’s cross fractional­ly wide of the near post, and four minutes later, Hamid made a brilliant leg save on Stojanovic’s point-blank effort.

United regained its rhythm and, with about 10 minutes left in the half, earned a second penalty kick. Kevin Paredes, a quick and unpredicta­ble wing back, got into an advanced position and worked on Jhon Espinoza. Paredes’s second cutback left Espinoza kicking out with his trailing leg. There was enough contact to warrant Gantar’s whistle.

Kamara put it away, improving to 7 for 7 on penalties this year.

Just before intermissi­on, Paul Arriola’s blast crashed off the crossbar. Julian Gressel retrieved the rebound and lifted the ball into the six-yard box, where Kamara twisted his body and directed a header into the far corner for his first MLS hat trick since May 2016 with Columbus.

The three-goal cushion allowed Losada to rest Paredes and Donovan Pines for the entire second half and Kamara and Gressel for most of it.

“The chemistry is solid,” Hamid said. “You can see every game building, building, building. This is another step forward. Keep going.”

Notes: With players returning from injuries and internatio­nal duty, forward Yamil Asad (16 appearance­s, eight starts) was not included in the 20-man match roster. . . . Hyattsvill­e-born Frances Tiafoe, who made Wimbledon’s third round and the U.S. Open’s round of 16, was honored at halftime and presented with a United jersey.

 ?? RICKY CARIOTI/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? D.C. United striker Ola Kamara leads MLS with 16 goals after scoring a first-half hat trick Wednesday.
RICKY CARIOTI/THE WASHINGTON POST D.C. United striker Ola Kamara leads MLS with 16 goals after scoring a first-half hat trick Wednesday.

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