As the MLS season approaches, MLSsoccer.com marks each passing day with a different statistic, observation or talking point, setting the stage for March 2.
30 – Goals by Kei Kamara for Sporting KC over the past three seasons
Used to be that for every towering header, every acrobatic lash into the corner, every manhandling of a physically inferior player, Kei Kamara would unleash an ill-advised heat check or embark on a head-scratching run to spoil neat buildup play.
Those days, while not so long ago, are long gone.
These days, Kamara is all grown up. As a result, he has his just reward for three years of maturation in Kansas City: what amounts to a four-month tryout with Norwich City in the English Premier League.
And while the 28-year-old could very well be back in hot and humid Kansas City during the dog days of summer, Sporting KC have an enormous challenge on their hands in the short term to replace, as Eddie Johnson might put it, one of MLS’ most grown-ass men in 2013.
How will manager Peter Vermes replace Kamara’s 30 goals – not to mention his 18 assists and countless chances created – over the past three seasons? And if Sporting can’t fill that void, as well as the one left by the departure of Roger Espinoza, will their well-documented success over the past two seasons begin to fade?
Despite the gnashing of teeth in Kansas City yesterday after the loss of yet another standout to the EPL, Sporting fans ought not decry their future if heart-shaped hands have indeed made their final appearance in the City of Fountains.
After all, Vermes has taken great pains at SKC to ensure the team trumps the individual. And because of that, there are plenty of options primed and ready to fill the void left by Kamara on the right flank until he returns on May 6 or perhaps sticks with the Canaries long term.
Graham Zusi’s future with the US national team is wide right, a development – along with the acquisition of Benny Feilhaber – that makes him a prime candidate to fill in for Kamara. Then there’s C.J. Sapong, who may be better suited in the middle for the time being but possesses all the skills to make his living cutting in from the sideline, not unlike the transition his Norwich-bound running mate made upon arriving in Kansas City.
And after establishing himself as a blue-collar banger in 2012, Jacob Peterson certainly has a legitimate claim to fill-in duty. As does 2012 first rounder Dom Dwyer, who is desperate to break into the lineup after Sporting rejected an offseason loan offer from St. Mirren.
Can they fill Kamara’s shoes? As individuals, probably not.
But as a group, there's no reason to think Sporting KC can’t make up for the Sierra Leone international’s absence via the collective efforts of one of the league’s deepest squads.
Meanwhile, one of MLS’ most fascinating talents and personalities will test himself in what he described as a “mecca of the game.” Inevitably, Kamara will fire off the occasional wild effort, eliciting groans at Carrow Road, but he’ll also amaze with his athleticism and represent Sporting KC and MLS with the kind of gregarious, genuine persona that’s endeared him to his hometown fans.
And if it doesn’t work out for Kamara on the big stage? One of MLS’ most fascinating talents and personalities will be welcomed back with open arms. No questions asked.
Sporting KC visit the Philadelphia Union on Saturday, March 2, live on MLS LIVE. GET TICKETS!