LEWIS CENTER, Ohio – While prolific scorers Bradley Wright-Phillips and David Villa dominated the headlines late last year during their Golden Boot chase, one of the most prolific scorers in the league stayed largely under the radar for an underperforming Columbus Crew SC squad.
Striker Ola Kamara finished tied for fifth on last season’s scoring charts, ranking only behind superstars Wright-Phillips, Villa, Sebastian Giovinco and Ignacio Piatti — and he did it with a major handicap.
Kamara started his season from scratch in mid-May when Columbus traded away Kei Kamara after his infamous dust-up with teammate Federico Higuain. Before his first start on May 14, Kamara had played just 50 MLS minutes, and had dealt with injuries that exacerbated an already abbreviated preseason.
After two scoreless first starts, Kamara hit his stride. He registered a hat trick in a 4-3 win over Real Salt Lake on May 28, kicking off a scorching streak of ten goals in eight starts. He would finish the season with 16 goals in just 1,859 minutes.
But despite the promise of an entire schedule of matches and a full preseason, Kamara isn’t thinking about how many goals he can score this year. Instead, he said he’s only worried about helping Crew SC improve from a disappointing 8-14-12 season.
“I haven’t focused that much on how many goals it should be,” he said. “It’s more about Columbus and how we can get to the playoffs. You always want to score a lot of goals. As a striker you love scoring goals, and I do. But right now I’m focused on [getting in] shape.”
To that end, Kamara believes getting in shape early is a key to repeating his success. The striker wasn’t signed by Columbus until February of last season, joining camp late and playing catch-up while dealing with multiple injuries.
Now under better circumstances, he believes he can continue to improve.
“I felt like I didn’t get to show my top level last year,” Kamara said. “I think that’s the preseason stuff. It took a while to get in and there was an injury and I never got that practice of games and then a big load came [in May] and I was tired. But just because you’re more fit, it doesn’t mean more goals. Last year the goals were coming, but hopefully this year the goals are still coming and I’m more fit.”
Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter cited Kei Kamara’s 22-goal season in 2015 and his two strikers’ goals-per-90-minutes rate last year as a reason why any in-form Columbus forward could challenge for the Golden Boot if the team is clicking. But Kamara gave a quick “no” along with a smile at the notion that he could challenge for the prize.
“You see the strikers we have in this league,” he said. “There’s David Villa, and BWP was incredible last year as well. You never know. But I’m not going for the Golden Boot.”
But the striker believes he can improve, and says he feels stronger physically and more skilled in the final third. He said he hopes “this is my best season yet.”
“Maybe I’ll get some respect as well,” he added with a grin.