The two Columbus stars argued over taking a penalty kick, and the club collapsed in a 4-4 draw with Montreal; That and more in Alexander Abnos's Week 10 Power Rankings
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.