Drogba to de Jong & beyond: Top five controversies of the 2016 MLS season

From Kei Kamara in May to Didier Drogba in October, the 2016 MLS season was certainly not short on controversy.

Which disputes got folks around the league most riled up in 2016? Here’s my top five.

Kei leaves Columbus

Not even a half season after he tied for the league lead with 22 goals and led Crew SC to their appearance in MLS Cup 2015, Kei Kamara’s tenure in Columbus came to a very ugly end.

The Designated Player, who held out at the start of Crew SC’s 2016 preseason camp before signing a new contract with the club, got into a very public spat with teammate Federico Higuain over a penalty kick in the second half of Columbus’ 4-4 home draw against Montreal on May 7.

Holding a 3-1 lead in a match that looked destined to be a rout, Crew SC earned a penalty in the 53rd minute against Montreal. Kamara, who was already sitting on two goals, one strike away from his first career hat trick, picked up the ball. He was approached by Higuain, who grabbed the ball and walked toward the spot.

The two engaged in a lengthy conversation, with Higuain eventually taking – and converting – the kick to give Columbus a 4-1 lead. Kamara was visibly upset on the field, and shared his feelings with the media after the match, which saw Crew SC blow their lead to tie the Impact 4-4.

“[Higuain] said, ‘Let Ethan [Finlay] 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.”

Three days after the incident, Crew SC suspended Kamara for his remarks. Two days after that, they shipped the striker to New England for a package that included General and Targeted Allocation Money and a pair of draft picks.

The move didn’t end very well for either club, both of whom missed the playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

De Jong goes in on Nagbe

Nigel de Jong’s brief LA Galaxy tenure was highlighted by an ugly tackle on Portland Timbers midfielder Darlington Nagbe.

The Dutch midfielder delivered a harsh challenge on Nagbe in the 73rd minute of the 1-1 draw between the teams on April 10, leveling the Timbers star with a studs-up challenge that forced him off the field in a wheelchair. De Jong was only shown a yellow card for the incident, but ended up being suspended three games for the tackle by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

In the end, Nagbe didn’t suffer a severe injury due to the tackle, missing just two games while recovering. De Jong, who by all accounts was a consummate professional and well-liked teammate in the Galaxy locker room, didn’t stay in LA much longer. He played 13 more matches after returning from his suspension before joining Turkish club Galatasaray in August.

Drogba sits in Montreal

For a moment, it looked like Didier Drogba’s time in Montreal would end with a whimper, as the Ivorian striker chose to not dress for the Impact’s Oct. 16 match against Toronto FC after being informed that he wouldn’t start the rivalry match against the Reds.

Thankfully for all parties, Drogba and the Impact were able to come to an understanding. The Designated Player missed Montreal’s next two matches while dealing with a stiff back, but he returned for the back end of the Impact’s playoff run, making three appearances off the bench in the postseason to bring a relatively happy close to Drogba’s momentous year and a half in MLS.

Giovinco snubbed for MVP

Despite finishing the regular season with the third-most goals (17) and second-most assists (15) in MLS and the highest combined total in the league, Toronto FC star Sebastian Giovinco was not included among the final three nominees for MLS MVP.

That raised some eyebrows, particularly in Toronto, where club officials and coaches made their incredulity about Giovinco’s snub well-known. It turned out that the Italian international finished a close fourth in voting, just behind the top three of David Villa, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and that the player vote actually prevented him from finishing higher.

Out of the Mix at NYCFC

Another NYCFC midfielder’s unfortunate injury at the start of the year just as easily could’ve been on this list. But I’ll include Mix Diskerud’s shocking lack of playing time in 2016 as the fifth controversy on this list.

Despite making 27 appearances last year and carrying a high salary charge, Diskerud made just 12 appearances in 2016, with his last MLS match coming all the way back on June 2. It was a rapid fall from grace for a member of the United States' 2014 World Cup squad, who didn’t even dress for the vast majority of NYCFC’s games down the stretch. 

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