One of the wildest one-week sagas in MLS history has finally come to an end that almost everyone can be satisfied with. Six days after a spat between Kei Kamara and Federico Higuaín led to Columbus Crew SC throwing away a three-goal lead, the Crew has traded Kamara to the New England Revolution for a package of General Allocation Money, Targeted Allocation Money, an international slot, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a percentage of any future transfer fee received for Kamara.
Whew, that's a mouthful. If you have no idea what General Allocation Money and Targeted Allocation Money are, you can read up on them here. The amount of total Allocation received by the Crew in the Kamara deal is reportedly in excess of $300,000.
Last season, Kamara finished second in both the Golden Boot race and MVP voting to Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, scoring a joint-league-best 22 goals (Giovinco won via the assists tiebreaker). He was also effective for the Crew in the playoffs, helping them to the MLS Cup Final. In light of that, the Crew handed him a contract extension this summer and upped his salary. The MLS Players Association has not yet released this season's salaries, but Kamara reportedly now makes in excess of $1 million. So it came as a shock to everyone when he went off the deep end by criticizing a teammate, trying to force a trade and then eventually getting traded.
The public-facing portion of this fiasco kicked off on Saturday, when Kamara wanted to take a penalty kick. With the Crew well in control of their match against Montreal Impact and Kamara with two goals, he wanted to complete his hat trick. Instead of letting him, Higuaín -- the regular penalty taker -- insisted he take the spot kick. Captain Michael Parkhurst intervened, telling Kamara to back off. He did, and Higuaín scored.
And then the Crew melted down mentally, conceding three goals in the final 35 minutes to draw Montreal, 4-4.
Following the game, Kamara went on a wild and unprecedented tirade. "That's selfishness. That's not a teammate," Kamara said about Higuaín. He continued to say that he had no on-field relationship with Higuaín, who did not look to set him up for goals like the league's other great No. 10s did for the strikers in front of him. After coach Gregg Berhalter informed Kamara that he would be suspended by the team for one game, he doubled down on his comments.
The MLS trade deadline was at 1 a.m. ET on Thursday, and Kamara was being shopped all day long. There were numerous reports that Vancouver Whitecaps were close to making a deal for him and Kamara fanned the flames.
Always in class in my career . pic.twitter.com/xip0JjHgsH— KEI KAMARA (@keikamara) May 12, 2016
That deal was nixed overnight and the deadline passed with no concrete news of a trade, so it was assumed that Kamara would be staying put. And then, out of nowhere ...
Here come the Revs!
The Crew's owner, Anthony Precourt, tweeted after the trade, saying that Kamara's character and conduct in general, not one incident, led to this deal taking place.
Need this to be crystal clear, not about the PK or Pipa drama this week. One chapter in the book. #CrewSC— Anthony Precourt (@APrecourt) May 12, 2016
So, why the Revs? And who's benefiting from this deal? Here's our best guess.
Clear winner: Kei Kamara
It doesn't matter who he plays for -- Kei Kamara is going to make really good money. Whether he stayed with the Crew or got traded, he has a contract for seven figures per year through 2018, his age-34 season. He's always the winner, even when he's a jerk and loses the PR battle. With that contract, he stays winning.
Besides that, he got what he wanted out of this. He now gets to play with a creative No. 10 who is more interested in setting up goals than scoring them himself, Lee Nguyen. In a weak Eastern Conference, he might be the difference between the Revs missing the playoffs and finishing on top. He might get the chance to knock Pipa Higuaín and the Crew out of the playoffs.
And again, he makes seven figures until he's 34.
Probable winner: Columbus Crew
The bad news is that the Crew just gave up a potential MVP candidate and got no players in return. The good news is that a record Allocation Money haul, plus an international spot and draft picks is the best return any team could possibly hope for in exchange for a player that is very publicly trying to piss people off and get traded. They got rid of a guy who was deliberately starting trouble and now have the means to replace him with two good players while staying within MLS salary cap rules.
Columbus also has very good depth for MLS. Starting left winger Justin Meram has proven himself capable of playing center forward in the past and backup Cedrick Mabwati is a very solid MLS winger. The team also signed two attackers this offseason, Ola Kamara and Emil Larsen. Both are coming off very successful seasons in Scandinavia. It's entirely possible the Crew don't even miss a beat.
Probable loser: New England Revolution
When is trading for one of the league's best scorers without giving up any good players a bad thing? When that player is a proven locker room cancer who you're committed to paying big money to until he's 34. And when the price you paid to get him is roster flexibility, perhaps the most valuable thing to have in MLS's hyper-restrictive structure.
Juan Agudelo is a big trade asset for the Revs come this summer, but not big enough to get back what they just gave up. If Kamara doesn't work out, they're pretty screwed. If there's a great international player who wants to join the Revs this summer, they're going to have a hard time signing him.
And on top of that, this is a move that reeks of a "win now because our window is closing" mentality. Which makes some sense, because they'll probably lose talented young starters Gershon Koffie and Diego Fagúndez to Europe this winter. But if they're so concerned about that, why didn't they pay Jermaine Jones whatever he was asking for instead of shipping him to the Colorado Rapids? Either you're trying to win now or you aren't. The Revs can't seem to decide.
Clear loser: Revs strikers
Pour one out for Agudelo, who will probably ride pine for two-plus months until he gets traded. Pour another one out for Charlie Davies, who is now very much a backup. And another one for Teal Bunbury, who is now permanently a wide player with all his hopes of playing No. 9 again thoroughly exhausted. This trio probably thought they'd have at least until July to prove that they're good enough to lead the Revs into MLS Cup contention, and that was swiftly taken away from them on Thursday.