Gregg Berhalter: Kamara-Zardes trade makes Columbus Crew SC better

For the second time in three seasons, Gregg Berhalter and Columbus Crew SC have traded their leading scorer.

Less than two years after moving striker Kei Kamara to the New England Revolution after a 22-goal season in 2015, the club announced Saturday that they had traded striker Ola Kamara to the LA Galaxy after the striker scored 18 goals last season.

In the deal, Columbus acquired Galaxy attacker Gyasi Zardes and $400,000 in Targeted Allocation Money. Crew SC will receive an additional $100,000 in TAM if Kamara scores at least 12 goals in 2018.

Despite the loss of Kamara, who has scored 34 goals in 59 MLS appearances, Berhalter said he made the deal to improve his team.

“Make no mistake about it, we think this move is making the team better,” he said in a conference call Saturday. “We think this is an aggressive move that will give us performance on the field and give us funds to spend in other areas to strengthen our team even more.”

Berhalter said “other teams” were interested in Kamara, but he felt the Galaxy’s package gave Columbus “the best possibility to maximize the value for Ola,” and said Zardes’ acquisition was perhaps the most important part.

“The important thing for this deal was to acquire a player that we felt has a lot of upside and can help the team immediately,” he said. “That was one of the prerequisites to doing this deal. The other part was that we wanted to get enough value for Ola, considering how he’s performance the last two years in this league.”

News of Kamara wanting a new contract broke in the middle of last season, and Berhalter acknowledged that the striker was interested in leaving. But he said the striker never made life difficult in Columbus.

“When that news came out, in this particular case, it didn’t disturb the relationship between Ola and the team or Ola and the coaching staff one bit,” Berhalter said. “He was nothing but professional. I give Ola a lot of credit for continuing to perform at such a high level and not letting that disturb him or his relationship within the group.”

With Zardes in the fold, Columbus now has a very different weapon. The multipurpose attacker has scored just 14 goals in 72 appearances over the last three years and has played several positions, with the Galaxy attempting to find him a comfortable home after extended struggles as a No. 9.

But Zardes did have a 16-goal season with the Galaxy in 2014, and while Berhalter acknowledged Zardes’ “versatility,” he said he sees him “primarily as a striker,” and one he can pencil into the starting lineup.

“We think Gyasi has the potential to be an elite striker in this league,” Berhalter said. “We’re more than comfortable going into the season with him as the number one striker. That’s not to say we’re not going to add attacking players to our roster; that is a possibility.”

Now, Columbus has to decide whether to keep another major piece of their roster. Winger Justin Meram has also reportedly asked for a trade, but Berhalter said it won’t be easy to pry Meram out of Columbus.

“Justin is an important part of this team,” Berhalter said. “My stance is very clear: unless we get an offer that’s going to significantly benefit the club, he’s not going to move. That’s an important distinction.

“Any time a player asks to be traded, we have to evaluate the offer. We have to make sure it makes sense from a club standpoint, because our job is to be a better team this year. That’s what we’re focused on.”