Monday May 9th, 2016

It’s not often that the major talking point to come out of an eight-goal thriller is about anything other than the play on the field. And yet that is exactly the case in Week 9, with Montreal Impact’s stunning comeback from 4-1 down to tie 4-4 against the Columbus Crew at MAPFRE Stadium. 

Indeed, instead of talking about Montreal’s gutty resolve, or Columbus’s ignominious collapse, the focus after the game was instead on intra-team squabbles between its leading goalscorer, Kei Kamara, and primary playmaker, Federico Higuain. Both are Designated Players. Both play important roles for Crew SC, which needs both to be performing at their best if they are to return to MLS Cup contention. 

Both, apparently, are at odds with one another.  

That was made apparent on Saturday, after Columbus drew a penalty kick in the second half. Kamara, who had scored two goals earlier in the game and has never scored a hat trick, wanted to take it. Higuain said no. The result was a lengthy, embarrassing delay before the kick that agitated the Impact and required the intervention of Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst to finally settle it. Higuain buried the PK as Kamara wore an indignant look.

Then, in the span of 40 minutes, the Crew defense caved in. Montreal scored three unanswered goals, including an equalizer in stoppage time by former Crew striker Dominic Oduro. And whether it was the effect of a tie that felt like a loss or lingering anger over the PK decision, Kamara didn’t mince words with reporters after the game. 

“That’s selfish,” Kamara said of Higuain’s decision to take the PK. “That’s not teammates. That’s selfishness.”

He went on. 

“I haven’t really had to depend on [Higuain] at all,” Kamara said. “How long have I been here? How many goals have I scored? How many have come from his assists? One, maybe two. I don’t depend on him. I depend on Ethan [Finlay], I depend on my outside backs to pass me balls.”

There are a lot of issues to unpack here. Here are five of them.  

For as ridiculous as the PK argument was for the players, ultimately that situation falls on Crew coach Gregg Berhalter. It’s his responsibility to make things like preferred PK takers clear to his players before each game. To his credit, Berhalter owned up to it post match, telling reporters “We have two players who are designated to take penalty kicks, and it’s on me for not qualifying which one takes it in this game. I’ll take full responsibility for that … Rest assured it’s not going to happen again.”

Yes, Kamara could have had his hat trick on the PK. And yes, it would have been a special moment in what has already been a very successful career for the Sierra Leone international. But Kamara had numerous other chances to get that hat trick, including two headers in the six-yard box that both hit the crossbar within three seconds of each other in the first half. Who knows, perhaps he could have nabbed his third after Higuain took the PK, had he not played with a clearly distracted mind for the 40 minutes afterward. Blaming Higuain isn’t just bad form, it also dodges a lot of accountability. 

In a team game like soccer, the notion that Kamara doesn’t rely on Higuain for his goals is absurd. Higuain’s movement, creativity, and passing range are part of what makes it possible for Columbus’s wingers and outside backs to get the ball deliver the ball to Kamara in the first place. Higuain’s availability in the center of the field draws opposition wing defenders toward the center, helping to give Columbus’ wide players the space to make crosses. Also, according to MLSSoccer.com, Higuain has actually assisted on four of Kamara’s MLS goals, just two fewer than top man Ethan Finlay. Higuain is important to most of what Columbus does on the attacking end–Kamara’s goals included. 

As unprofessional as it was for Kamara and Higuain to behave in such a fashion on the PK argument, it was equally unprofessional from the Columbus defense to completely switch off afterward, as it was repeatedly caught ball-watching for the final two of Montreal’s three goals in the comeback. 

A common complaint from people that read a lot of sports coverage is that athlete quotes are often some of the most cliche-ridden, by-the-numbers stuff. It’s a frustration shared by many of those who are writing, broadcasting, or otherwise disseminating this coverage. Athletes are on guard. They do occasionally lie, or at least obscure the truth of their actual feelings, for fear that it won’t be publicly accepted.

Kamara has developed a reputation as an emotional player, someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. This isn’t the first time he has had pointed words, whether it’s calling out his own national team over inadequate facilities or his club in England for not supporting him during an illness. This latest instance, like it or not, is the type of honesty fans should love to read. And though Berhalter and other members of the club won’t like it (for good reason), it’s impossible to deny that it makes a standard 4-4 thrill ride a bit more interesting. 

Offensive player of the week: Robbie Keane, LA Galaxy

Keane returned to the Galaxy starting XI and didn’t look like he lost a single step in a 4-2 win over New England. The Irishman hadn’t played since March 19 after undergoing knee surgery, but he was active all across the field thanks to being given a more withdrawn role by Bruce Arena. The forward played it perfectly with two goals. Keane had to be subbed out (likely due to fatigue), but his scoring return is yet another piece of good news for the rolling Galaxy. 

Defensive player of the week: Axel Sjoberg, Colorado Rapids

The 6'7" Sjoberg was simply everywhere for the Rapids on Saturday, clearing balls, intercepting passes, being a nuisance to attackers, and leading his team to a win that pushes it to the top of the table on points. Even more impressive: Sjoberg (along with the rest of Colorado’s back four) was able to contain an RSL frontline that had yet to be shut out this season before Colorado’s 1-0 win.

People will rightly point to Jermaine Jones’s ongoing positive impact with the Rapids, but defensive performances like this one from Sjoberg are just as important. 

MLS Power Rankings, Week 10
 
  • 1
    1LA Galaxy
     
    last week: 1
    record: 5-1-3
    The Galaxy simply overpowered the Revolution on Sunday, with Giovani Dos Santos scoring his fourth goal in his last three games (on an absurdly-low five total shots). The manner in which they let the Revs back into the game will be concerning, especially for a team that struggles to keep clean sheets (just one in nine games).

  • 2
    2Colorado Rapids
     
    last week: 3
    record: 6-2-2
    The Rapids keep on finding ways to win, and Jermaine Jones has been central to just about all of them. The midfielder has only played four games for Colorado, but it seems like it’s been four years with the way he darts around the attacking third, finding pockets of space and making plays that win games, as he did with his goal on Saturday.

  • 3
    3Real Salt Lake
     
    last week: 2
    record: 5-2-2
    RSL had plenty of possession and looked vaguely threatening against Colorado, but nothing they tried seems to really test the opposition goalkeeper. It is to RSL’s credit, though, that they were able to grind out what could easily have been a well-earned 0-0 draw were it not for a moment of magic from Jones.

  • 4
    4Toronto FC
     
    last week: 6
    record: 4-3-2
    The new BMO Field was rocking on Saturday night, and Toronto FC paid back the fans for their enthusiasm with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Tsubasa Endoh's goal. After a solid performance on the season-opening road trip, a run of three home games against teams currently in the bottom half of the table awaits.

  • 5
    5Seattle Sounders
     
    last week: 9
    record: 4-4-1
    Seattle seems to have figured things out. The return of Erik Friberg may have a lot to do with that. The Swede was excellent in his first start since March 12th, as his vision and linking play allowed the rest of the Sounders attack to operate effectively in a 2-0 win over San Jose. U.S. internationals Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored, with Morris netting for a fourth straight game.

  • 6
    6San Jose Earthquakes
     
    last week: 5
    record: 4-3-3
    The Earthquakes nearly pulled off the kind of gritty, unexpected result that has become their trademark this season. Down 1-0 and outplayed at Seattle, Chris Wondolowski had a chance to salvage a point from the PK spot. He missed, and San Jose gave up one more goal.

  • 7
    7Portland Timbers
     
    last week: 6
    record: 3-4-3
    The Timbers played well at times against Vancouver, but after last week’s stupendous performance goalkeeper Jake Gleeson came back down to Earth at BC Place. Part of that was his fault, but a lot of blame should lie with the Portland defense, which allowed Vancouver to take a stunning 26 shots, 13 of which were on target.

  • 8
    8New York Red Bulls
     
    last week: 10
    record: 3-6-1
    A 1-1 draw at Orlando is the Red Bulls’ third positive result in a row. Three may not seem like many, but when you had the horrendous start the Red Bulls did, it counts for a lot. Newly acquired center back Aurelien Collin looked right at home in a chippy game, and the Red Bulls picked up their first road point.

  • 9
    9Philadelphia Union
     
    last week: 8
    record: 4-3-1
    The Union had this week off, but they face a stiff test on Wednesday when they host the red-hot Galaxy.

  • 10
    10Montreal Impact
     
    last week: 11
    record: 4-3-3
    For as much as Columbus completely and totally collapsed, Montreal also put in the work necessary to capitalize on Columbus’ mistakes. Down 4-1, the Impact fought back for a 4-4 draw, with Dominic Oduro scoring in injury time away from home.

  • 11
    11FC Dallas
     
    last week: 4
    record: 5-4-2
    Dallas was handed a tough assignment, serving as fodder for Toronto FC in the re-opening of an absolutely electric BMO Field on Saturday. Dallas got cut open by a superb Sebastian Giovinco assist on Toronto’s goal, and could have earned a point with better finishing. Still, three consecutive losses, continued defensive issues, and weakness away from home all spell trouble,

  • 12
    12Vancouver Whitecaps
     
    last week: 16
    record: 4-5-2
    The Whitecaps put in as cohesive a performance as they have managed all season and it paid dividends with a 2-1 win over Portland Timbers. Pedro Morales returned to the starting lineup and played 90 minutes for the first time since his groin injury and Japanese international Masato Kudo scored his first goal as a Whitecap.

  • 13
    13Orlando City SC
     
    last week: 14
    record: 2-2-5
    Once again, Orlando City will say that it was hard done by a referee’s decision, what with Ted Unkel canceling his penalty kick call midway through the match, and also with Cristian Higuita’s red card near the end. But both were correct calls. Orlando drew because it didn’t take enough the chances it was given in front of goal.

  • 14
    14Sporting Kansas City
     
    last week: 12
    record: 4-5-2
    Preseason worries that SKC would struggle to find goals without Krisztian Nemeth appear to be well-founded. Sporting simply couldn’t get anything goal against Houston, one of the league’s worst defensive teams. Outside of Dom Dwyer, SKC simply doesn’t have a consistent scoring threat.

  • 15
    15D.C. United
     
    last week: 13
    record: 2-4-4
    D.C. United had plenty of chances to score against NYCFC, but Alvaro Saborio missed the easiest one early on and everything from there seemed like a struggle. D.C. is dealing with a ton of injuries to key players, and that was compounded when Patrick Nyarko had to come off vs. NYCFC due to illness.

  • 16
    16New York City FC
     
    last week: 20
    record: 3-3-4
    NYCFC put forth its best performance of the season with a 2-0 win over D.C. United. Patrick Vieira’s team took advantage of their chances and, for once, didn’t allow their opponents back into the game. David Villa scored his seventh goal of the season, tied atop the Golden Boot chart with Portland’s Fanendo Adi and San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski.

  • 17
    17Houston Dynamo
     
    last week: 19
    record: 2-5-2
    The best antidote to placing last in these Power Rankings appears to be placing last in these Power Rankings. Houston made it four straight weeks that the bottom team in the previous week’s rankings got a win, thanks to its 2-0 victory over SKC. Giles Barnes scored, Cubo Torres started and got an assist, and the Dynamo’s balance finally seemed to shine through.

  • 18
    18Chicago Fire
     
    last week: 18
    record: 1-2-4
    The Fire enjoyed a week off before the travel west to take on Vancouver at BC Place on Wednesday, then host the Revolution. They’ll hope that DP striker David Accam will be fit enough after his knee injury to contribute.

  • 19
    19Columbus Crew SC
     
    last week: 15
    record: 2-4-3
    It seemed as if Crew SC might have turned a corner just a few weeks ago after two straight wins. Those two wins look a lot less impressive now after a loss, a 4-4 draw that feels like a loss, and the knowledge that those two wins came against NYCFC and Houston Dynamo–hardly the league’s elite so far.

  • 20
    20New England Revolution
     
    last week: 17
    record: 1-3-7
    How did the Revolution do this weekend? Well, which half did you watch? In the first half against the Galaxy, the Revs were lazy on defense and sloppy in possession. In the second half they took the game to LA, cut a 3-0 lead to 3-2, and could easily have tied it before LA tacked on a breakaway. Which one is the real New England?

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