Revisiting the Kei Kamara Trade

Blockbuster trades aren’t exactly common in MLS. Usually it’s role player for role player or uninteresting player “X” for cash. So when we do get treated to a major move, it only makes sense it comes under extra scrutiny. This summer’s Kei Kamara trade certainly qualifies as a blockbuster. Considering the teams involved met less than a week ago and the playoff picture is clearing up for both sides, it seems a fair time to re-evaluate the trade.

A bit of background first. Kamara was coming off a season in which he scored 22 goals (tied for first), finished second to Sebastian Giovinco in the MVP award and helped lead Crew SC within a Steve Clark howler of an MLS Cup. But all was not well heading into the season. Kamara was making noise about wanting a bigger contract – a contract he eventually ended up getting in the form of a DP deal. Then came the meltdown. Columbus threw away a three-goal lead at home against Montreal, highlighted by Kamara and fellow Crew SC star Federico Higuaín fighting over who would take a penalty kick. Montreal fought back to salvage a 4-4 draw and Kamara called out Pipa on live TV after the game. Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter was left with no choice but to move one of his stars. New England swooped in to grab Kamara for a record amount of allocation money, 2017 first round and 2018 second round SuperDraft picks, and an international slot for 2016. 

Total MLS broke down both sides of the trade in the immediate aftermath. How have things played out since? Short answer: It hasn’t been great for either team in the short term. Kei Kamara hasn’t exactly provided the firepower New England was expecting with only five goals in 18 appearances. The big forward has struggled with a team less-focused on playing to his aerial strengths, and the Revs look destined to miss the playoffs despite a roster that is certainly playoff-caliber. Columbus’ season hasn’t been much better since dealing Kamara. Gregg Berhalter’s team is shockingly set to miss the playoffs this year after Wednesday night’s loss to DC United.

However, long-term there’s a strong argument Columbus came out ahead on the trade. Moving Kamara gave Ola Kamara the chance to step in and fill the void at forward. And the “other” Kamara has delivered. The Norwegian has 15 goals in 19 starts, all since Kei was traded. Ola is only 26 and considerably cheaper than the 32-year-old Kei, giving Berhalter and Columbus another young piece to build around. Value for the Crew is based on the long-term play of Ola Kamara and what can be done with the two draft picks. Value for New England is almost entirely based on whether Kei Kamara can help the team win a trophy in the next one to two years.

Like I said at the beginning, flashy moves like this one are always going to draw more scrutiny. Is it too early to call a winner? Maybe. Maybe Kei and the Revs make a miracle run to an MLS Cup. The talent is certainly there and in that case, it’s hard to argue with the move from a New England perspective. Maybe Ola Kamara proves to be one of the best forwards in the league and helps open a four or five year championship window for Crew SC. Regardless of how this eventually pans out, though, it had to be satisfying for Berhalter and the Crew to see “their” Kamara score the game-winner last Saturday.