COLUMBUS, Ohio—Columbus Crew SC blew a three-goal lead in Saturday's 4-4 draw to the Montreal Impact at MAPFRE Stadium – but a failure to capitalize on their best offensive showing of the season wasn't even the biggest talking point coming out of the match.
In the midst of what seemed destined to be a rout, Crew SC earned a penalty kick in the 53rd minute after Justin Meram was fouled in the Montreal box. Columbus striker Kei Kamara – already sitting on two goals, just one away from his first career hat trick – took the ball in hand. He was approached by Columbus playmaker Federico Higuain, who grabbed the ball and walked toward the spot.
After a lengthy conversation between the two Designated Players, along with some input from Ethan Finlay and an intervention from captain Michael Parkhurst, Higuain took – and made – the kick, which put Crew SC up, 4-1.
Kamara was visibly upset on the field, and made his displeasure known after the match.
“[Higuain] said, ‘Let Ethan score.’ And Ethan says, ‘No, you can have it,’” Kamara recalled. “Then [Higuain] says, ‘No, I get to take it.’
“That’s selfishness. That’s not a teammate.”
Kamara was asked if he explained the situation to Higuain at the time.
“Do I have to tell him?” Kamara said. “The whole stadium sees it.”
From there, Kamara said Higuain referenced a “1-for-1” approach in which it was apparently determined that they would trade PK attempts. Higuain had already left the locker room when reporters entered on Saturday night, and did not comment.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter called the entire match an “immature performance,” but took the blame for the penalty kick situation and told reporters after the match he would change his approach.
“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,” Berhalter said. “I’ll take full responsibility for that … Rest assured it’s not going to happen again.”
While the goal would have given Kamara his first career hat trick, it also marked a milestone for Higuain: His 14th spot kick goal set a club record (out of 20 total attempts in his MLS career).
Kamara, who has made six of seven career penalty attempts in the MLS regular season, was not impressed, and referenced a personal lack of penalty kick attempts last season as the reason why Sebastian Giovinco eventually bested him for the 2015 Audi Golden Boot (Kamara and Giovinco finished 2015 tied on 22 goals, but Giovinco won the award based on the assists tiebreaker).
“PK goals,” Kamara said, with a laugh. “That’s great. Why did I lose the Golden Boot last year? How many PK goals did I score before Giovinco?”
Toronto FC's Italian forward, who went on to win the Landon Donovan MVP award, scored a total of three PKs in 2015 (on four attempts). Crew SC, meanwhile, were awarded two penalty kicks all last season, both taken by Higuain.
Kamara didn’t stop at the single penalty kick incident. He also said that what unfolded on Saturday night doesn’t change his relationship with Higuain because, according to Kamara, the playmaker hasn’t done enough to help him score.
“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.”
It turns out that of Kamara's 25 goals in MLS since rejoining Crew SC, Higuain has been credited with an assist on four of them (one secondary assist). Left back Waylon Francis (five assists), left winger Justin Meram (four assists), center mid Tony Tchani (four assists) and Finlay from the right wing (six assists) have as many or more helpers on Kamara goals.
Kamara then drew a contrast to other MLS partnerships between No. 10s and their scoring strikers.
“It hasn’t been [there]. But I haven’t had to worry about it because I’m scoring goals. But when it comes to something like [the penalty kick], I really have to get mad about it and I’m really upset.”
Goalkeeper Steve Clark witnessed Kamara’s statements from across the locker room, and attributed the dispute to two “passionate players” who “want to win.” Clark expects the team to come together to work through the situation.
“I think we’ve built something really, really good here,” Clark said. “Now we need to sit down as a family and talk it out. I know everyone cares about each other and frustrations are boiling over, obviously, after being up 4-1. People have a right to be upset.”
How does Kamara envision moving forward? Not changing much.
“Coach wants me in, I play,” he said. “If I get a chance to score, I score. Just don’t depend on [Higuain] for assists or balls or nothing. Just continue playing the same way I’ve been playing here.”
Kamara said he talked to Higuain after the game. He said, “We’re good,” but “there’s not much to talk about.”
“To me and to the relationship to believe in my number 10, my playmaker, there is none,” he said. “I never have to worry about it.”