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Columbus Crew SC Can Still Succeed Without Potent Forward Depth

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Do the Black & Gold really need to have a talented backup forward to Kei Kamara? History shows they do not.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

There's a growing concern among Columbus Crew SC fans. The team reports on Friday for the start of preseason camp and the regular season begins in a little over a month, yet the Black & Gold have one forward on the roster that has ever played an MLS game.

Kei Kamara had an incredible year as the primary striker for Columbus in 2015. The towering front man led Crew SC's line with 22 goals - tied for the most in Major League Soccer - and eight assists in 32 games, 21 starts.

The problem is, can the 31-year old replicate a performance like that? More importantly, can he stay healthy as he did a season ago?

In 2015, Kamara played all but two games and started all five postseason games - leading all players with four goals.

During that season, there were a number of options for head coach Gregg Berhalter if something happened to Kamara. To start the year, Kamara's primary backup was fourth-year professional Aaron Schoenfeld who had 4 goals in 34 games entering season. Behind him was Adam Bedell, who entered his second professional season with 16 appearances and two goals for the Black & Gold.

Partway through the season, Crew SC made a trade with the Montreal Impact for veteran forward Jack McInerney on the cheap. This allowed Columbus the luxury of moving Bedell, who was traded to Orlando City SC.

Entering 2016, McInerney is gone - his rights were traded to the Portland Timbers after he could not come to terms on a deal with the Black & Gold - and Schoenfeld recently signed with Israeli side Maccabi Netanya.

This leaves Crew SC with three rookies up top - second-round pick Kyle Parker, former Division III star Marshall Hollingsworth, and former St. Louis University product Vincent Cicciarelli - to make the team and be Kamara's backup.

There have been rumors of players like Radamel Falcao, who is on loan at Chelsea but has been hurt the majority of the season, coming to Columbus, but let's forget about that for a second because those remain just crazy rumors.

Does Crew SC need to sign a forward?

Now, of course they need at least one, and probably two, to fill in if or when Kamara can't play or needs rest, but that could be a rookie forward and possibly an MLS journeyman. But is there a real need for Berhalter to go out and sign someone of note to sit behind Kamara like McInerney did for four months last season?

I don't believer so.

A quick look back to 2014 shows how successful the Black & Gold can be without a potent striker.

That season, the combination of Schoenfeld, Bedell, and Jairo Arrieta up top combined for 10 goals while the team had one of its more productive scoring years with 52 total goals, six less than in 2015.

That season, Berhalter's club found the back of the net in different ways and spread the scoring around much more than last year.

Winger Ethan Finlay and attacking midfielder Federico Higuain tied for the team lead with 11 goals apiece. Justin Meram scored eight goals while Bernardo Anor found the back of the net six times - both outside midfielders.

Crew SC had 12 players scored at least one goal in 2014, with just eight goal scorers last season.

A year ago, Higuain adopted a different role, playing much more of a creator rather than a scorer. The wingers focused more on getting the ball into Kamara as opposed to taking it to goal on their own.

The Black & Gold were also a much better defensive team, not relying on a forward to bail them out on the offensive end. With the way Crew SC closed out the season defensively - with center backs Michael Parkhurst and Gaston Sauro establishing a solid partnership - Berhalter will be looking for a return to something closer to 2014 at the back.

Columbus is reportedly ready to add another winger in Emil Larsen, who has a proven he can score in the past from out wide indicating a potential focus on these wingers as opposed to another striker.

While no one would argue that 2014 without Kamara was a better season than last year with - more goals scored, a better record, and an appearance in the MLS Cup Final - the Black & Gold proved that they don't need a forward to be a successful team in this league.

And let's remember, baring any long-term injury, Kamara isn't going anywhere. If he does miss some time, Berhalter can revert to the more balanced attack of 2014, with players that are more experienced.