By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
In case you missed the drama last week and are wondering why Kei Kamara was out on the pitch this weekend for New England, Columbus traded their sometimes enigmatic and always entertaining forward to the Revolution for a ransom of MLS financials, a couple draft picks, and an international roster spot.
Regardless of why, Kamara is now gone from Columbus. The question now shifts to what becomes of the Crew and their immediate future. Kamara in his last post game appearance made a few awkward and pointed remarks. “I haven’t really had to depend on Pipa 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, I depend on my outside backs to pass me balls.”
This is partially true in terms of actual goal production, but it´s not the entire story. While Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay, Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis all accrued their share of assists last year, Kamara's chances have come primarily through a cross-happy approach. Utilizing the Sierra Leone native's elite skills at winning aerial duels in the attacking box, Kamara led MLS with the most aerial duels won (155) with an insane 56% success rate.
Pipa has been credited with only four assists (one being a secondary assist which we don't count in our records) on goals scored by Kamara. But he hasn't exactly been dormant during the Kei era either.
Higuain has very obviously played an integral part over the last year to the success that Kamara experienced and as shown on the graph has been Kei´s primary partner assisting with 32 shots, the most on the club. While it´s not necessarily been as transparent as others on the field in terms of the traditionally awarded numbers, Higuain has in fact played an important role.
|Higuain||Minutes||Shots||xGoals||Shots Created||xAssists||xGoals Created||xGC p96*|
*96 minutes is the average length of an MLS game.
There is an argument to make that Higuain's statistical decline is, in part, due to Kamara’s arrival and the fundamental change in tactics and how the team as a whole is trying to create shots. This isn't an indictment on Kamara but a lead to a bigger question concerning Higuain and what he will be able to do in the midst of the vacated striker.
There are a multitude of reasons as to why his last few seasons saw a decline in his attacking numbers and they aren't necessarily indicative of a decline in ability, but at 31 years old that question certainly must be entertained.
Higuain’s role is vital to a transition away from a direct approach that Columbus built their success upon last season. Kamara's numbers especially are borderline video game-esque, and made up 29% the team’s shots taken. That ranks third in MLS, trailing only Giovinco and David Villa. Those direct contributions to Columbus are absolutely a key contributor to what vaulted the team to the second highest goal tally in the league last year and were a huge reason for their MLS Cup appearance.
Trading Kamara away creates both a tactical and statistical hole and Berhalter will need Higuain to facilitate and revitalize the attack centered around build-up, through balls and general creativity, things that haven't been as prevalent (or important) with Kamara up top.
Higuain during the last year compared to others hasn't really had much variation to his game except that the attack hasn't played to his skills. And in actuality, the Crew’s game the last few years has not really varied much either.... except they got someone that was perfect for what they were trying to do in the attack.
2016 has shown a slight change from that tactic and puts Higuain towards the forefront of a change in dynamic with his specific set of skills. That adjustment will be needed and almost mandatory with the exodus of Kamara. Without such an elite skillset to win incoming crosses, the team is set-up for limited long term success unless they find a new way to attack.
Looking at the 11 other teams in front of the 2015 Columbus Crew in short pass to cross ratio, only the 2013 Goonies of San Jose saw the playoffs.
The 2016 Crew will likely take a dip in performance from 2015, but with the proper tweaks and importing of talent, they could be a much stronger and sustainably successful team for the long run. But immediate success will rely upon Pipa and how much he has left in the tank.