Shawn Mitchell of the Dispatch broke the story that Columbus Crew SC and forward Kei Kamara have reached a new deal that would include a significant raise and make Kamara a Designated Player. The deal is expected to be officially announced this week.
The deal reportedly locks up Kamara through the 2018 season, a year extension on his current deal, in addition to the raise. Additionally, the multiple reports suggests that Kamara's raise may extend over the $1 million mark. The team had originally offered $700,000 according to reports from last month.
Crew SC fans should be happy with the deal. Kamara is the key to how the team plays in head coach Gregg Berhalter's system. His 22 goals is evident of his value and a happy Kamara puts the team in the best position for a title. Additionally, he's a personable and energetic face that fans of all ages can connect with.
I'm sure they'd prefer to keep to the original deal, but the team is still likely pleased with the new contract too. Kamara's skillset is essential for how Crew SC plays. It's hard to replace 22 goals, but Kamara's contributions extend far beyond his thumping headers. Few players in league history have combined Kamara's athleticism, movement off the ball, and passing touch in a target striker package. Even if Kamara's goal scoring numbers slip to more normal levels, he's still extremely valuable for Crew SC.
Lastly, this is a satisfying result for Kamara. At 31, this may be his last shot at a big contract and he struck when he had the most leverage. His 22 goal season put him into the MVP conversation a year ago. He carried the offense at times through sheer force of will towards MLS Cup. Now he has locked up a long term deal to stay in a place where he's putting down roots. His wife and daughter live in town and he's excited to stay in Columbus for the long term.
This is the fourth Designated Player contract in team history joining Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2009, Andres Mendoza in 2011, and Federico Higuain who joined the club in 2014. This also marks the first time that Crew SC will have two Designated Players on the same team at the same time.
Crew SC has previously paid over the DP threshold. Federico Higuain made over $1 million last year, but Gaston Sauro and Kamara made over the $436,250 maximum budget charge in 2015, but the team used allocation money to buy down the charge on both contracts.
It's unclear how much Kamara's contract will affect the Crew SC salary budget situation. His contract will now count the full maximum charge for the 2016 season, $457,500.
The contract is also the latest sign that owner Anthony Precourt will spend money to improve the team. In 2014, the team was reportedly in the mix to bring Michael Bradley to Columbus before being outbid by Toronto FC. He and Berhalter reportedly offered a 7-figure salary to entice Mix Diskerud to sign. The team did give Higuain a lucrative contract after the 2014 season.
With the contract situation put to rest, Crew SC and Kamara can focus wholly on the 2016 season. Both sides are expected to push for an MLS Cup and the only way that happens is if player and team are working together. Now it's clear they will be.