Columbus Crew SC didn't struggle to score goals in 2014. In fact, they were in the top half of Major League Soccer with 52 goals scored on the season. The issue the Black and Gold faced last year was getting consistent production from the striker position.
Out of those 52 goals, 29 came from Columbus' midfield. Federico Higuain, who plays in between the midfield four and the target forward, scored 11 more goals on his own and Crew SC got one goal from former center back Giancarlo Gonzalez.
For 2015, head coach Gregg Berhalter added striker Kei Kamara, who most recently played with English Championship side Middlesbrough where he scored four goals in 25 appearances. Fans of the Black and Gold have high hopes for the former Sporting Kansas City man, who scored 52 goals in 193 MLS games in his first run in the league.
"It's a lot of pressure, I've got to be honest," Kamara said about the expectations to score goals for Crew SC this season.
"It's a lot of pressure to come in for that, but maybe in my earlier career, I would have put a lot more pressure on myself thinking that I would have to score, score, score. But for me, now it is definitely just linking up with the guys around me."
In Columbus' possession-based system, the link-up play between teammates is important all over the field, but as the lone forward, Kamara's job will be to put the ball in the net.
"The coaches told me that they see me playing up front as the top guy," Kamara explained.
"I'm going to love it just to be a target guy, center guy, to hold up the ball. Just be in the box a lot more for cross so it's going to be great."
Crew SC created plenty of chances inside the 18-yard box last year. Whether from crosses or well worked play, the Black and Gold had opportunities in front of goal, but the combination of Jairo Arrieta, no longer with the team, Aaron Schoenfeld, and Adam Bedell could only finish a combined 10 chances.
The addition of Kamara is expected to improve on the quality of chances and the conversion rate. While both Bedell and Schoenfeld have the size to be menaces in the box, neither was a dominant force. Berhalter and his staff believe that Kamara's combination of size (6-foot-3), athleticism, and finishing ability will be the missing ingredient from a season ago.
One thing that will be important for the success of the striker in his second stint in Columbus will be how well he can work with Higuain, the team's attacking maestro. The Black and Gold's No. 10 pulls the strings of the Crew SC attack and he will be the primary player responsible for creating chances for Kamara.
Although it is still preseason, Kamara, who trained with Crew SC at the end of 2014 before he could be officially added to the team's roster, believes the two players are forming the necessary chemistry.
"Great. I have to be honest there, great," Kamara said of his relationship with the Argentinian. "I was really excited to first see that [Higuain] was returning to the club, signed a new contact. I was really excited about that because, when you think of the team from last year, definitely he's one of the offensive threats and as a striker, you want to play with somebody like that that can find you any time. So we're just trying to build up that relationship here in the training ground all day and hopefully we can do something great together."
Of course it takes more than a good relationship with teammates to be successful as a striker in MLS. Arrieta's chemistry with Higuain was what made him successful in his first season with Columbus, scoring nine goals in his first 18 games but only eight in his final 49 games with the Black and Gold as his clinical finishing ability appeared to diminish.
The anticipation is that Kamara's strike rate will be better and he is expected to add to an already fairly potent attack. Although there is a lot of pressure to score, this is what Kamara wants and hopes for as the striker for Columbus.
"I want to score some goals and get the fans hyped," he said. "Get some fans behind us and get some wins because the more wins we get, the more we can fill up that stadium."