FRISCO, Texas — It hasn't been an easy acclimation for Roland Lamah, the FC Dallas midfielder who was signed to replace Fabian Castillo.
But a hat trick in FC Dallas' previous home league game against Real Salt Lake - Lamah's second, third and fourth goals with the club - hinted that the 29-year-old was beginning to find his footing in Major League Soccer.
Saturday night he had another multi-goal performance, scoring a double to help spur FCD to a 3-1 win over Toronto FC. The goals were a relief for Lamah who, in addition to adjusting to MLS and coping with an ankle knock, has been mourning the loss of his friend Cheick Tiote.
It didn't take long for the first goal to come. FCD forward Maxi Urruti got to the touch line in the fifth minute and cut the ball back for Lamah, who beat Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono to the ball and knocked in the opener. After he finished off the move, Lamah ran to the corner flag and showed a message written on his undershirt, a dedication to Tiote that read, "Forever in my heart. Tiote, my brother."
While Lamah represented Belgium internationally, he was born in the Ivory Coast and became friends with Tiote while the players were at Anderlecht, then spent the 2007-08 season on loan with Dutch club Roda. Tiote's death after collapsing during a June 5 training session stunned the football world, and Lamah wanted to use Saturday's match and every match that follows this season to pay tribute to his friend.
"I lost a friend a few weeks ago. It was important to me because I wasn’t able to go to the services. This is my way to say that he’s always with me. Every game I’m going to play this year is for him," Lamah said about the tribute.
Moments later Lamah was celebrating again, running on to a gorgeous through ball from Mauro Diaz and using his left foot to add a second goal - another tally to dedicate to the memory of the ex-Newcastle star.
“I want to play for him,” Lamah said. “He was my good friend. I dedicate the first goal, the second goal and every game to play for him.”
At several points during the season it's looked like Lamah's starting spot was in danger. Despite being one of FCD's best-paid players according to data from the MLS Players' Union, Lamah has struggled to find his fit in the squad and has looked like a poor replacement for Castillo, the pacy winger FCD sold to Turkey in the summer.
But after a fortunate goal against Chicago, Lamah broke out with the hat trick against RSL. That was impressive but easy enough to dismiss as taking advantage of one of the league's worst teams. Toronto is no such side, entering the weekend in the top spot in the table. Lamah has been working both on getting to full fitness and to getting into the area more.
"It’s always dangerous. I have to be in the area because we have players who are fast, like Tesho (Akindele), (Michael) Barrios and myself as well. I’ve always got to be ready," he said.
FCD coach Oscar Pareja has preached patient with Lamah and forward Cristian Colman, a fellow offseaon addition who has yet to score his debut goal in MLS play. Even he seemed surprised at Lamah's sudden surge, but said the talent is there for Lamah to be a key contributor if he can keep finishing chances.
"Rollie is one of the players in this team who gets in the box easier and somehow he finds good spots just to be in front of the goal," Pareja said. "He’s realizing how good he can be for us if he can keep exploiting those spots in the box. He did it against Real Salt Lake, and in the first half today he did it again. Then in the last game in the cup he has two or three chances just like that. I’m happy to see him being present on the scoreboard. It just gives us a different look.
"I’m happy to see Roland adapting to the league. I’m happy to see him give us what we need."
Lamah found what he needed Saturday: The back of the net, a key role in a victory for his club and a beautiful opportunity to pay tribute to a friend taken from the world too soon.