I was once asked to build a deck while working at a miniature golf course. It should’ve been clear early on that this task was outside my skill set (I brought my boss the wrong drill bit, which resulted in him calling me a monkey). Regardless, they had me continue to build the deck. One year after I finished the project, they tore down the deck and hired a professional.
I tell this story not to highlight my own incompetence, but to explain why Kei Kamara was the wrong fit for the New England Revolution.
Midway through the 2016 season, Columbus Crew SC sent Kamara to the Revs in exchange for General Allocation Money, Targeted Allocation Money, New England’s highest pick in the 2017 SuperDraft, their highest 2nd Round pick in the 2018 SuperDraft, and an international roster spot through the rest of the season. It was quite the haul but the Revs were getting a player who collected 22 goals and eight assists just one year prior. Plus, they later received a nice bounty from the Philadelphia Union for Charlie Davies.
Kamara struggled in his first few months with his new team, only amassed seven goals and two assists in 21 appearances. His second season hasn’t been much better, as currently has four goals and three assists in 17 games.
That said, these lackluster stats aren’t his fault.
Kamara is the type of player who sits in the box waiting for service. In fact, he said as much in the lead up to the U.S. Open Cup game against the New York Red Bulls, explaining,
“I’m a goal scorer. I’ve scored, I think, 90 goals in this league. I’m a goal scorer in the box and I’m waiting in the box. I think when I start getting crosses and getting balls in the box and I start putting one or two in there, then hopefully it starts flowing. I’ve been doing my work. I’ve been doing work to be in there. It hasn’t been the right one yet, but yeah, if I get one or two – but I’ve got to be in the box and be ready for those crosses when they come. Hopefully, I can put them in the back of the net.”
Some have interpreted this quote as Kamara being lazy but I think it’s a goalscorer knowing who he is. Kamara is at his best when he’s taking one touch to finish inside the box. He doesn’t want to run at players. He doesn’t want the ball at his feet. What he wants are wide crosses to end a quick counter.
Don’t believe me? Watch this video that shows all 31 goals that Kamara scored during his second run with the Yellow and Black.
As you can see, Kamara is all about putting himself in the right position. He has no problem winning a header or playing off of a defender’s shoulder, but when you ask him to combine with a midfielder or take on a defender things fall apart.
It should be noted that Kamara has been showcasing the skills that made him successful elsewhere. He’s winning aerial duels (2.6 per game, the highest of any regular), he’s taking shots (2.8 a game, the highest on the team), and he’s scoring when he gets the kind of service that he likes.
Three of the goals that Kamara has scored this year look like the ones he had while in Columbus. Against Minnesota United, Kamara scored a tap-in at the far post after drifting away from his defender. He would later score headers off of corner kicks against Real Salt Lake and New York City FC.
The other goal he scored highlights why Kamara isn’t the right fit for the Revs. In the 52nd minute of a home game against the Houston Dynamo, Kamara was sent in on goal by Lee Nguyen. Kamara is forced to dribble and has his initial shot blocked by a goalkeeper who’s far off his line. Luckily, Kamara recovered in time to slot home the rebound.
The play is something we’ve seen a million times from the Revs. After winning the ball, the team marches forward and tries to get in behind the defense. It works well for Juan Agudelo, not so much for Kamara.
Everyone was so excited when Kamara was traded to New England because Chris Tierney would finally have a target. The idea made sense but the partnership hasn’t produced much. In fact, Tierney’s only assist to Kamara came on a corner against the Montreal Impact on July 2, 2016.
Kamara needs wide service to thrive and he’s not getting it. Tierney has fallen out of favor and Andrew Farrell has only produced one assist in 147 games (though he did play center back for some of those). This, combined with a host of midfielders that prefer cutting in as opposed to staying wide, is troublesome for Kamara.
As a result, Kamara has been asked to adapt. This means that he has to flare wide or move towards the ball. As any good player would, Kamara has obliged, opening up space for others, but this isn’t his style. He’s not the kind of guy who will send in a killer cross, hold up the ball, or break an opponent’s ankle with his dribbling. He’ll try to do those things, but they don’t come naturally.
In short, he’s not going to build you a proper deck.
The Kamara experiment hasn’t worked in New England but he’s not to blame. His style simply doesn’t fit with the rest of the roster. Unfortunately, this problem isn’t easy to fix. As a Designated Player, it’s going to be difficult to move him at this point in the season. With Kamara likely to stay in New England through 2017 (and maybe beyond), the team has a few choices.
They could continue to play as is, hoping that things will suddenly click. This is unlikely considering what we’ve seen so far.
They could go out and add a player who can whip in more accurate crosses. Perhaps this is a left back that can get up the flank or a winger that likes to stay wide.
Finally, they could hand the starting spot to Juan Agudelo and use Kamara off the bench. This isn’t likely to satisfy Kamara, who wants to be on the field as much as possible. That said, his ability to win headers is nice to have at the end of a game.
The Revs have little time to figure out the right move as they currently sit 10th in the Eastern Conference with 20 points. If they don’t come up with the right solution soon, they run the very real risk of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
All statistics are from WhoScored.com