Despite how it felt after the Portland Timbers' 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday, the season is not yet over and there are still games to be played; the Columbus Crew is set to host the Timbers this afternoon as the season continues and, to get a better look at the Crew, we turned to our SB Nation sister site, the Massive Report.
The Crew have had one of the league's most prolific attacks in 2015, scoring 49 goals in 30 games so far, and most of them have come from journeyman striker Kei Kamara. What is it that has Kamara on such a goal-scoring tear for the first time in his career? (Kamara, who has 21 goals this season, has obliterated his previous season best of 11 goals in 2012.)
The biggest difference is the system and the opportunity. No matter where Kei was, these have always been issues. When he was in Columbus to start his career, he made just 13 total starts over two seasons on teams that weren't very good. It was a similar situation in his one year with the San Jose Earthquakes.
With the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City, the system didn't fit his abilities. His greatest success before this year came as a wide player in Kansas City. While he did well there, his strength is in front of goal, using his well timed runs and athletic ability to finish off chances.
I will also say I think his time in Europe helped a lot as well. Though he didn't play much in his two seasons abroad, he was training at a high level and it seems to have raised his game that much more.
In head coach Gregg Berhalter's system, Kamara is the point man in an attack that creates a lot of opportunities. Because he's been healthy the whole season, Kamara has been the benefactor of these chances and made the most of them. Could he have done this throughout his career if circumstances had been different? There's no way to tell, but he's proving a point right now.
What happened to Frederico Higuain? Seven goals and seven assists is pretty nice, but how is the Crew's Argentine wizard being eclipsed by Kamara and Ethan Finlay? Is this a down year for him or are his numbers not telling the whole story?
You hit the nail on the head with the last question. Higuain should never have been a guy to score double digit goals. Although he is capable of it, as he's proven, he likes to float around the field and create chances for others. When the opportunity is there to score, he's going to take it but that's never been his main focus.
On Crew SC of the past few years, Higuain needed to be that guy because there wasn't a striker to do it for him. Names like Emilio Rentería, Andrés Mendoza, Jario Arrieta, Dominic Oduro and Aaron Schoenfeld weren't getting it done for the Black & Gold for a variety of reasons and Higuain had to pick up the slack.
This year, with Kamara scoring as he has and Finlay playing solid once again, the pressure is off the Argentine to score goals and he is able to pull the strings from all over the field. Assuming nothing strange happens between now and the game on Saturday, you'll likely see what I'm talking about.
The Crew attack has been great, but the team's defense has not this season, giving up 49 goals and leaving the team dead even on goal differential despite being in second place in the Eastern Conference. What have teams done to exploit the Crew defense this year?
Oh, the defense is the story of this team this year. A lot of the issues came over the first two-thirds of the season and it's hard to put a finger on what went wrong.
There were games with dumb mistakes at the back, games where Columbus found itself down a man on the road, games where players got caught out of position. Wil Trapp, who helps out a lot defensively, missed an extended period of time due to concussion symptoms. No one thing has been the cause or been the main issue for Crew SC defensively.
If I have to pick something that works against this club, it's hitting them on the counterattack. The most recent example of that is FC Dallas, who scored two goals that way in the second half in a 3-0 win at MAPFRE Stadium. The Black & Gold were without plenty of starters in that contest, but it's not as if that is the only time this happened. Berhalter likes to play an attacking brand of soccer and Crew SC will get numbers forward. Naturally this leaves them a little exposed at the back at times and teams have taken advantage this season.
I will say, the Dallas game aside, this team has been much better defensively over the last few matches. We'll see if that continues on Saturday.
Harrison Afful-Michael Parkhurst-Tyson Wahl-Waylon Francis
Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram
The only player I could potentially seeing missing out would be Francis, who didn't play last week due to an injury. He was in training all week, so I would expect him to go.