May 7, 2016. A day that will live in Columbus Crew SC infamy. Not following? Okay, maybe it’s not that infamous by the date, but it’s a day any Crew SC fan who has been around for the last two years will remember.
Following one of the most successful seasons in club history that culminated in hosting the MLS Cup Final — eventually losing to the Portland Timbers — the Black & Gold struggled out of the gates in 2016.
After a 2-4-2 start to the campaign, Columbus hoped to get things on the right track with a home match against the Montreal Impact. It started off well with Crew SC up 3-1 just after halftime. But then madness ensued.
Justin Meram was taken down inside the penalty area, giving the Black & Gold an early second half penalty kick. Kei Kamara, who had scored two of the team’s first three goals and was on the verge of his first carer hat track, wanted to take the penalty, but Federico Higuain had other plans.
The Columbus attacking duo had a verbal disagreement on the field that required captain Michael Parkhurst to jog up from his center back spot and attempt to play peacemaker. Higuain, despite claiming he wanted to give the attempt to Ethan Finlay, took the penalty kick and converted.
Clearly disappointed, Kamara, along with a few teammates, did not celebrate with Higuain and the rest of the group in front of the Nordecke.
Despite being up 4-1, Columbus would allow Impact goals in the 57th, 58th and 93rd minute to leave MAPFRE Stadium with another disappointing result. But the fireworks of the night weren’t over with Kamara calling Higuain “selfish” after the match and essentially blaming his teammate for the striker losing the Golden Boot race the year prior.
Both players would be fined in the coming days and Kamara’s time with Crew SC quickly came to an end, as he was traded to the New England Revolution just five days later.
What a saga that was; a rare public spat between two teammates in Black & Gold history. Since then, it has come out through various sources that Kamara and Higuain had prior issues and the penalty kick disagreement finally toppled the boiling pot.
It has now been two years since that fateful day, and plenty has happened for both players.
Kamara went on to feature 21 times for the Revolution during the remainder of 2016. The striker scored seven goals, after scoring five times in the nine matches with Columbus prior to the deal. He played 31 times — making 27 starts — for New England in 2017 and scored 12 goals, but was never able to recapture the magic of his 22-goal, eight-assist season of 2015 with Crew SC.
Despite moderate success with the Revs, the organization elected to part ways with Kamara this offseason, trading him to the Vancouver Whitecaps in December for a 2019 first-round SuperDraft pick and a conditional 2020 second-round selection. So far this season, Kamara has three goals and two assists in six games, including scoring back at MAPFRE Stadium against his former club.
Similar to Kamara, Higuain also struggled in 2016, although for a rather different reasons. The playmaker dealt with a hernia issue that required surgery, limiting him to just 20 games, registering four goals and three assists, his lowest numbers of his Crew SC career.
But despite many pundits believing his best days had past him, Higuain returned in 2017 with a vengeance, scoring nine goals and adding a career-high 14 assists in 26 games, all starts. He’s off to a good start to 2018, scoring two goals and registering four assists through 10 games, as well as joining the elite 50/50 club.
At the time of the dispute, there was a segment of Columbus fans who believed Kamara should be kept over Higuain. Head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter obviously did not agree, moving Kei over Pipa, and the results seem to support that decision.
Although it’s impossible to tell how Crew SC would have done if Higuain were moved and Kamara remained as the team’s striker, Kei has not seen the MLS Cup playoffs since leaving the Black & Gold, missing out both years with the Revolution.
While Columbus struggled with Higuain hurt in 2016 and failed to reach the postseason, the team rebounded strong last season, finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference and coming within one goal of again hosting the MLS Cup Final.
The one saving grace following the disappointing loss in the 2015 MLS Cup Final was that the group Berhalter put together seemed to be one that could remain a force in MLS for the next few years. Kamara and Higuain were a big part of that, yet an inability to get along ultimately was that group’s downfall.
Sitting two years out, it’s interesting to think what might have happened if the two had been able to put issues aside and get along. Would Crew SC have been able to right the ship after the slow start, and MLS Cup hangover, to 2016? With both Kei and Ola Kamara on the roster, how prolific could this offense have been over the next few years? Does Kei help the Black & Gold defeat Toronto FC last year and get back to another MLS Cup Final?
So many questions that will never be answered. All, very basically, due to one penalty kick.