Columbus Crew SC boasts a deep history of forwards. The Black and Gold's past players include Jeff Cunningham, Brian McBride, and Edson Buddle, three of Major League Soccer's top-15 goal scorers, among others.
Recently, Columbus has searched for the next top goal scorer, but have struggled to find that consistent striker.
A forward who can put the ball in the net on a regular basis isn't easy to come by, but it is a major luxury if a team has one. While soccer is a team game and goals should come from all over the pitch, if there's a striker who is reliable when it comes to scoring, it allows the rest of the team to focus on doing well in other areas.
In his second year in charge, head coach Gregg Berhalter would love to find a consistent forward who he can count on to bag goals for Crew SC.
It was not a good year for forwards in Columbus in 2014. The top four goal scorers on Crew SC were midfielders and Jairo Arrieta, who was fifth in scoring, only managed six goals on the year.
The combination of Arrieta, Aaron Schoenfeld, rookie Adam Bedell, and Dominic Oduro - who was traded to Toronto FC in early June - led to 10 total goals, a number not good enough for a team that scored 52.
The Black and Gold relied on their midfield for the majority of the scoring chances because they had no striker who could consistently get the job done.
Arrieta, Schoenfeld, and Bedell all looked good at points but none of the three were consistent enough to lock down the position.
What Has Changed
Arrieta was selected with the 11th pick in the MLS Expansion Draft by Orlando City SC and subsequently traded to D.C. United. Despite only six goals scored a year ago, his tireless work rate will be missed in Columbus.
Crew SC went back in the history books and acquired Kei Kamara. The striker, who was selected ninth overall by the Black and Gold in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft, spent the last two years in England after a successful five years with Sporting Kansas City.
The 30-year old Kamara is expected to make a triumphant return to Ohio's capital city, building on his 52 career MLS goals.
Crew SC kept both young forwards, Schoenfeld and Bedell, for 2015 and added 25-year old rookie Sagi Lev-Ari, who scored in double figure all three years at California State Northridge with the 35th overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft.
What to Expect This Season
The expectations are that the production from last season increases and that must be the case. Kamara is being viewed as a savior for this team, as many fans thought they were a goal scorer away from really being a top team last year.
As has been detailed on Massive Report, Kamara has the potential to help Crew SC produce more goals this year, but is playing in a new role. Fortunately the striker was around towards the end of last year, so he's had plenty of time to adjust to this role and his new teammates.
The expectations cannot be only on Kamara's shoulders though. He will be the starter to begin the year, but the other forwards will need to produce as well. Whoever comes off the bench must be able to contribute in the time they receive.
Schoenfeld showed he had developed last year but must take that next step in 2015. Bedell also must improve from his rookie season to his sophomore campaign. All of the forwards must work with Lev-Ari to get him to the MLS level.
There is talent up top for the Black and Gold and the expectations should be high because of that.
It is not too much to expect 10 goals - the total amount from forwards a year ago - from Kamara this season. He scored in double figures twice with Kansas City, nine goals one season, and seven goals in just 15 games in his final year with Sporting before moving to England. With Crew SC's offensive talent, Kamara should get chances. It will simply be about converting them.
I believe Bedell and Schoenfeld are ultimately battling for one position. Obviously there will only be one reserve striker coming off the bench unless the Black and Gold are desperate for a goal, but after this season there may only be room for one of them on the roster.
Schoenfeld has the leg up with his play a year ago, but Bedell has the potential. If he can figure out how to use his size to his advantage in the air and become more aggressive, he could be a dangerous option, especially coming off the bench.
This position group is the biggest question mark for Columbus heading into the season. The production should increase from last year, but can it increase significantly? That will determine where Crew SC sit at the year's conclusion.