The story was simple for Columbus Crew SC the last several matches: Keep on winning and hope things go the team’s way. For the most part, the Black & Gold have done that, until last night’s 2-2 draw with the Chicago Fire.
When the starting lineups were released an hour before kickoff, fans were left puzzled. In a game where the team needs a victory, and therefore goals, Crew SC’s top scorer sat on the bench from the start for the second consecutive match.
There were a few schools of thought.
Was Ola Kamara injured? Well, on Tuesday Kamara went to the locker room before the rest of the team (and before the media was allowed into the EAS Training Center) and came back out in gym shoes. He stood outside the lines watching the end of training, but seemed in good spirits.
Ola was not listed on the injury report and when I asked head coach Gregg Berhalter if Kamara was dealing with any injury issues, he told me he was not. I followed up if it was planned for him to finish earlier than his teammates and Berhalter said ‘Yes.’
The next thought was Kamara was being rested for Sunday’s game at the New York Red Bulls. After all, Columbus was playing the only team in the league with a worse record than they have who they just beat 3-0 the game before without Ola starting.
If the Black & Gold could get another win without starting Kamara, it would have him fully rested for the final two matches of the season against two teams already in the playoffs. (Although Crew SC were coming off an off weekend)
But when you have to win each game, you have to put the best team on the field and there’s no doubting that Kamara is the best forward on the roster.
The final thought was that Kamara was in Berhalter’ doghouse. We’ve seen this before with players — Emmanuel Pogatetz comes to mind — who have done something to get wind up on the bench under Berhalter. There has been no indication however that Ola, who is generally in a positive mood most of the time and seems to be a good locker room player, has done anything that would result in his benching. Also, this team does not need another
Kei Kamara situation.
After the game, Berhalter was asked about not starting and playing Kamara and we got our answer... eventually.
“Take a guess,” was his initial response...
“He was injured. We put him on the lineup sheet just to put him there but he wasn’t available for selection.”
Well there we have it. Berhalter did not elaborate on Ola’s injury and the follow up question in Chicago was not asked, but apparently it is bad enough that Kamara could not have entered the game if needed.
First, let’s be clear. Kamara’s absence was not the issue on Thursday night. Adam Jahn played another good game, including scoring both of the team’s goals. Would it have been nice for Crew SC to at least have Ola available off the bench? Probably. Would it have mattered? Probably not.
It is an interesting decision by Berhalter to keep Kamara’s injury a secret and use him as a bench decoy against one of the worst defensive teams in Major League Soccer. Tactics I guess.
With playoffs now out of reach, Berhalter did say that he will get some other players more minutes, so maybe you’ve seen the end of Ola Kamara for 2016.
The following was added after the article was published at 11:15 a.m EST
To add fuel to the fire, there’s this first-hand account...
I don't believe this. Ola warmed up the entire 2nd half with the other subs and very clearly expected to be subbed in at some point. https://t.co/siALGRsFl3— John Zidar (@TheZidar) October 14, 2016
.@MassiveReport On more than 1 occasion Josh Wolff yelled down for subs & the trainer, Stuver. & Ola all assumed it was Kamara they wanted.— John Zidar (@TheZidar) October 14, 2016
.@MassiveReport during warmups he was one of the most engaged and was definitely executing drills with the most intensity.— John Zidar (@TheZidar) October 14, 2016
As always, Massive Report will keep you updated, or at least as much as we can.