Crew SC must deal Higuain or Kamara to help heal fractured dressing room
One of them has to go.
That was the visceral takeaway after Saturday's embarrassing on-field confrontation between Columbus Crew SC playmaker Federico Higuain and star striker Kei Kamara continued in the media after the match. Two days later, a breakup seems no less inevitable.
There was nothing good about Higuain and Kamara's juvenile dispute over who would take a second-half penalty kick against Montreal. The unsavory episode cost the hosts two desperately needed points by swinging the momentum in the Impact's favor, even though the Argentine's eventual spot kick gave the Crew a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead. It took the life out of Gregg Berhalter's team and allowed the visitors to roar back with three unanswered goals in the final 55 minutes, including Dominic Oduro's stoppage-time equalizer, to earn a share of the spoils.
As bad as that self-inflicted implosion was, what followed was even worse.
Look, sometimes teammates don't get along. Even within winning clubs -- something the 2-3-4 Crew, MLS Cup runners-up in 2015, are not so far this season -- there will be guys who can't stand each other. But as long as they can coexist for 90 minutes and are committed to accomplishing the common goal of winning, it doesn't matter. Sometimes a rivalry between teammates can even help if it pushes them and the rest of the group to be their best.
Then there is the sort of toxic bad blood that destroys teams. It's hard to tell if this apparently long-running feud between Higuain and Kamara is the cause or a symptom of the Crew's struggles this season, but we now know it had been building.
So when Kamara blasted Higuain in a postmatch TV interview and again to reporters in the Mapfre Stadium locker room, it probably crossed the point of no return. Kamara called Higuain's actions selfish. He was right, but his words also revealed a stunning lack of self-awareness. Kamara had been every bit as selfish as Higuain was, and he alone compounded the problem by publicly airing a list of personal and damning grievances against his fellow designated player.
Essentially, he said Higuain doesn't pass him the ball, and that if the Argentine hadn't taken both penalties awarded to Columbus last season, Kamara would have won the MLS Golden Boot race ahead of league MVP Sebastian Giovinco. It was the equivalent of verbal napalm. The damage had already been done.
Berhalter, the Crew SC coach and sporting director, told the Columbus Dispatch that Kamara's comments were "uncalled for."
Public and private apologies and club-levied discipline are sure to arrive in the days to come, but the odds are not in favor of a fractured locker room rallying around this incident. Columbus needs a shake-up. If Berhalter is smart, and he is, he's already quietly working the phones to see what kind of return he might get for Higuain or Kamara. These are elite attacking players in MLS. They can help other teams win and there will be interest, if not at fair market value, in both players. As it stands, it's hard to see Kamara and Higuain coexisting in Columbus much longer.
Even Berhalter didn't rule out the possibility of a move.
"Decisions like that are never easy. It's something we will consider very carefully," he told the Dispatch. "The ultimate [factor] will be, 'What's in the best interest of this football club?'"
It's a tricky one for Berhalter to navigate, to be sure. Replacing Kamara's goals would be nearly impossible, but rewarding his bad behavior by getting rid of Higuain might not go over well, either. Something's got to give after Saturday's debacle, though. In the end, addition by subtraction could be the only choice.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.