An on-field collapse of gigantic proportions was somehow overshadowed by the unveiling of major personnel and locker room strife after the club's two designated players — Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain — argued over who would take a penalty kick. That turned into some serious postgame comments from Kamara regarding his relationship with Pipa.
Since then, it seems Crew-land has been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will Kamara be suspended? Will someone be traded? What does Gregg Berhalter have to do to get control of things and prove he hasn't lost the locker room?
On Tuesday morning, this came across the Twittersphere from Sports' Illustrated's Grant Wahl:
Hearing Columbus is trying to trade Kei Kamara pre-deadline, but it's hard to move DPs since so many teams have the maximum 3 DPs already.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) May 10, 2016
Folks, the proverbial stuff has hit the fan.
Some things to consider: Wahl has reliable sources, and if he is reporting this, it's not just a rumor, it's a thing that's happening. However, he says "trying," which means there's no official information on the standing of these attempts. That may be as simple as throwing chum in the water and seeing how teams respond, or it may be as advanced as actually being in talks with teams over the nitty gritty of a trade.
[Note: During the writing of this story, Gregg Berhalter admitted that teams have reached out regarding his DPs. More on that later in this piece.]
In light of Wahl's report, it's worth considering what the options truly might be, and what it means for Columbus.
With Kamara signing a contract extension through 2018 at the start of this season, his status as a designated player complicates things a little. Major League Soccer does not reveal contract numbers, and the MLS Players' Union has not yet released 2016 salaries. However, it is believed he is set to be paid more than $3 million across two years. That's not elite DP money, but it's not chump change either. If true, it is also more than Higuain, the only other DP on Crew SC's roster, is being paid.
Outside of Columbus, there are only a handful of teams with less than the maximum three designated players on their roster. Those teams are: D.C. United, Houston Dynamo, New England Revolution, New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City.
Any team in the league could be in play, but other clubs would require one of two things: a DP-for-DP swap, or enough TAM on hand to buy down Kamara's contract out of DP range (considering that's somewhere around a million dollars of TAM, based on the above number, it's seems unlikely, though not impossible).
It's impossible to guess what will happen, so this is just a discussion of hypothetical possibilities.
New York and D.C., for various reasons, seem like completely illogical fits.
The Union could certainly use a talent upgrade in general, though C.J. Sapong has been good this year. Of course, the return of a Sapong-Kamara duo could be interesting. I just don't see Philly making that sort of splash. They seem to have a system, both on and off the field, that they are committed to with Earnie Stewart.
SKC automatically feels right because of Kei's roots there, but a look at their current roster doesn't really make sense. Kansas City has tons of depth on the wings already, and Dom Dwyer is entrenched as the No. 9, plus the team just brought in a young DP striker in Diego Rubio.
New England has all sorts of attacking talent already. Maybe the club feels like rocking the boat a little might shake it back into form, but the Revs' issues have been in the back, not in the attack. Kamara might be more consistent than Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo have been, but that's a saturation of talent. Coming back, Davies doesn't strike me as a great fit in Gregg Berhalter's system, though Swagudelo tantalizes with his raw talent. That said, New England hasn't been one to throw around DP money.
Seattle loves to be involved in DP trades — of 11 designated players ever traded in MLS, the Sounders have been involved with five [thanks to Sounder at Heart's Dave Clark for that one]. But Seattle is already trying to figure out how to fit all of its attackers on the field. Jordan Morris would not be moved, but maybe Nelson Valdez would. His salary is comparable to Kamara's, and all signs point to the Sounders signing a DP-level midfielder, so it would be unlikely they'd bring in a DP without moving one out. The Paraguayan striker would probably like being guaranteed to play centrally, as opposed to splitting time on the wing as he is in Seattle. That said, it's been two years since he's been productive. Has just one goal in 12 appearances with the Sounders, and had just one in 10 prior to that during a loan stint with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Lastly, there is Houston. This is a team that, like New England, one might envision actually upgrading with Kamara, but with bigger issues to address in defense. Kamara would appear to offer more versatility and more consistent production than Will Bruin while providing some of that hold up play. There's also a sort of ready-made swap — remember Erick Torres? He went from great Mexican goal-scoring hope to languishing on the bench with the Dynamo, largely, it would seem, because Owen Coyle came in and just didn't see a big role for him. The last time he played regularly, he scored goals. The question marks are how the money would work with each team (I'm assuming he's being bought down, since his 2015 salary is listed at just 425k), how he fits in Berhalter's system as more of a channel runner and poacher than a threat on crosses and just what are you getting? He hasn't scored an MLS goal since 2014 in a Chivas USA uniform.
That's a lot to chew on without even opening up the rest of the possibilities.
One would think that Columbus would prefer to send him to the Western Conference rather than make a conference rival stronger. A team like the Vancouver Whitecaps have not gotten off to the start it wanted, and goal-scoring has always been an issue for them, but it still seems unlikely they'd give up on DP striker Octavio Rivero already. A swap for DP D-mid Matias Laba and the end of Tony Tchani's time in Columbus? That would be a lot of dominoes to fall (and a lot of unfounded speculation, FWIW).
I mean, let's face it. There are 20 teams in a league with convoluted roster rules. The possibilities are a winding labyrinth in which we could get lost for days.
What it means for Columbus
This is really more important than how it would go down.
The biggest change from a 2014 season with some promise to a 2015 season that led to a second-place finish in the East and a run to MLS Cup was that Kamara was on board. Remember how hard it was for the Black & Gold to score goals before he showed up? Remember the illustrious trio of Jairo Arrietta, Aaron Schoenfeld (aka the Israeli league's Kei Kamara) and Adam Bedell. You've probably removed that era from your brain, and with good reason.
We have hope that Ola Kamara can be a contributor. The jokes about Conor Casey aren't even funny. That's where the attack is left without Kei, sans a trade for another top-level striker, which, let's face it, isn't something teams just pass around. The only reason there is a market for Kamara — who would clearly be leaving on bad terms — is because there aren't many guys who can score 15 goals in this league. Teams will take on any baggage (though to be fair, we didn't know Kei had any until now) from a Crew SC team that clearly would have its hands tied and be "forced" to move him.
Kamara may be acting like a really tall, athletic 5-year-old, but he has the upper hand — he's talented with a particular skill-set that has been a perfect fit in Columbus.
This is why I would be terrified:
There are only 2 strikers in MLS that are aerially dominant enough to make a > 10-1 cross to throughball ratio team viable. Crew need Kei— Sean Steffen (@SeanSteffen) May 10, 2016
The other he's referring to? Didier Drogba.
Berhalter has a very clear system, and he needs a No. 9 who can be very good in the air. When you think around the league, there aren't that many of those guys. If Kamara goes, it changes the way this team can play and be successful and it could signal the end of this season. Even if Columbus were to go get someone from outside the league this summer, based on the start of the season and the interim, it seems unlikely that the team would even be treading water.
Not to mention, if the only way that Berhalter can "take back the locker room" or control his team is by kicking guys off the island when they misbehave, the club is in trouble.
We don't know how deep-seated these issues might be. I'd be hard-pressed to believe these rumors would even surface if this was really an isolated incident, and Kei's own rant seems to scratch at a much deeper itch. That said, messages can be sent internally, without tearing apart a team. That's why, combined with little time to actually put together a good move, the trade option is likely nothing more than just an option, and not a likely solution.
Berhalter told reporters today that he has received interest from other clubs for both Kamara and Higuain. When asked if he was doing everything he could to keep the club intact, GB said:
Berhalter: "We are doing everything we can to put this football club in position to win games." #CrewSC— Shawn Mitchell (@smitchcd) May 10, 2016
His full response was this:
That only kind of answers the question (a Berhalter specialty).
He also said:
Later on, Kamara responded to questions like this:
But he was also non-apologetic about what happened on Saturday and his remarks re: Higuain.
So the bottom line is that things look extremely shaky in a world where Kamara is no longer in a Crew SC jersey. We know he won't be on Saturday — the club announced a one game suspension, which he made clear he did not agree with.
But even if he remains with the club, which I think is what everyone would prefer, the situation needs to be ironed out, whether by Berhalter or the players in the locker room.
Any hope of salvaging the 2016 season very well may come from finding a way to make both Kamara and Higuain happy while still in black and gold. This could be Berhalter's legacy. And we haven't even spoken about the disaster on the field last weekend.
We've come a long way from hosting MLS Cup.