Kei Kamara used to be the player who got to enjoy being the linchpin of the Columbus Crew SC attack.
The veteran striker, traded to the New England Revolution on May 12, would not find the back of the net in his return to MAPFRE Stadium, as his former club posted a shutout and defeated the visitors 2-0 Sunday night.
Ola Kamara—the man who moved into the void at the forward position creating by the similarly surnamed Kei's departure—would instead be the one who got to celebrate in front of the fans Sunday, scoring both Columbus goals for a brace and his fourth multi-score game on the year.
Meanwhile, Kei Kamara was met with a solid and heady defensive performance to deny him glory in Columbus while sporting the red and white kit of the Revolution. A chorus of boos rained down whenever he touched the ball Sunday, as the Nordecke supporters' section led the charge on trying to make the Sierra Leonean feel unwelcome.
The first strike from Crew SC's Swedish attacker came at a very opportune time for the Black & Gold.
Assisted by midfielder Mohammed Saeid, who was passing well and creating chances even better throughout the contest, Ola Kamara broke through in the 42nd minute of play to give his side the one-goal lead. That would prove to bode well for Crew SC, since five of Columbus' six previous 2016 victories had come when scoring first. New England was also statistically consistent: they've lost 12 matches overall, and this was the eleventh of those defeats in which they conceded the first goal.
It seemed an entertaining first half had a chance to be whistled dead with a scoreless draw still intact, as the bevy of shots taken by both sides largely either lacked precision for the final flourish or were impeccably defended by the opposing goalkeeper.
Steve Clark had notched four saves for Crew SC by halftime, but his performance was outdone by the six saves posted by his New England counterpart Brad Knighton six before the break. Both goalkeepers cooled off in the second half with a single save apiece, but it still felt like a duel was brewing late into the match.
Onlookers were treated to 18 total shots launched in the first 45 minutes, but Kamara's score set the tone for a team that has tended to awkwardly and cautiously overthink its game plan when trying to protect a meager lead.
In a tense second half that saw 12 more shots taken, the second Crew SC goal came on a converted penalty kick in the 84th minute.
Revolution defender London Woodberry saw a yellow card for his contact on Ola Kamara, but it was decidedly minor. Given the location of the foul inside the box, however, referee Chris Penso cautioned Woodberry and afforded Crew SC the chance at an insurance goal. Knighton was no match for Kamara from the spot.
Operating once again without either designated player Federico Higuain or young defensive star Wil Trapp, Columbus built on the momentum of a decisive 4-1 victory at Orlando City SC last week by showing ever-increasing finesse in its implementation of a makeshift 3-5-2/3-4-3 hybrid scheme. Defender Nicolai Naess slotted in again at central defensive midfielder on the left side, more purposefully holding and contesting possession than he did at home against Vancouver two weeks ago. Saeid, even aside from his crucial assist, moved intelligently and was visibly playing with the intention of empowering Justin Meram and Hector Jimenez to build a strong rapport on the opposite flank.
Ola Kamara also did well beyond his scores. As an example, he followed a clever bit of footwork in midfield traffic with some hustle in the 66th minute: he controlled the ball deftly during a spin move, passed it to Naess in space and made it to the six-yard box for an attempt on a Harrison Afful service cross seconds later.
In a final bit of drama on a night of physical play, Revs midfielder Scott Caldwell appeared to take down Ola Kamara hard and Ethan Finlay led the Black & Gold effort in standing up for their fouled teammate. Shoving ensued, and a full-on brawl threatened to break out. Video replay showed the contact to be minimal and that Kamara did a good job of selling the severity of the takedown. Only Caldwell got yellow, and as of print time, the officiating staff were still in talks with Major League Soccer to determine what they had witnessed during the scuffle.
Columbus sits five points back from sixth-place D.C. United and is very much in control of its postseason destiny, as Crew SC takes on that very team in Washington on Wednesday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium.