The Columbus Crew traded their leading scorer days after he got in a common soccer argument with a teammate

In a surprising bit of MLS transfer news on Thursday, the Columbus Crew announced that they have traded Kei Kamara, their leading scorer, to the New England Revolution in exchange for allocation money and future picks.

The mid-season departure of a team’s top player is almost always indicative of a rift between the player and the team, which indeed proved to be the case with Kamara and Columbus.

But the specifics here are more puzzling than your run-of-the-mill dispute, as the downfall that led to the trade appears to have began just five days earlier, when Kamara got into a silly mid-match spat with a teammate over which player should take a penalty kick. 

On May 7, the Crew drew a penalty kick early in the second half against the Montreal Impact, while leading 3-1. Kamara had already scored twice and presumably wanted to take the penalty in order to complete his hat-trick. But teammate Federico Higuain insisted on taking the kick, and the two began to argue.

Although most teams have a designated PK-taker, arguments like this arise every so often and are usually resolved without lingering effects, much less a trade. This turned out to not be the case with Kamara, who finally let Higuain take the kick.

Higuain stepped up to the spot and scored, giving the Crew a 4-1 lead. The game, however, resulted in a 4-4 tie. 

After the game, Kamara put his team on blast. 

“We scored a lot of goals, but there was no team play,” Kamara said after the final whistle (via ESPN FC). “And that completely explains the way me and Federico behaved on the penalty kick.”

“A team who stays together will win games. A team that doesn’t, not gonna win games,” he added.

It didn’t stop there. Kamara also sounded off against Higuain, calling him selfish and saying he didn’t need him on the team.

“That’s selfish,” Kamara said (via SI). “That’s not teammates. That’s selfishness.”

“I haven’t really had to depend on [Higuain] at all. How long have I been here? How many goals have I scored? How many have come from his assists? One, maybe two. I don’t depend on him. I depend on Ethan [Finlay], I depend on my outside backs to pass me balls.”

As punishment for speaking out against a teammate, Kamara was benched for one game by the Crew. SI’s Grant Wahl also reported that the Crew were considering trading him. 

Kamara wasn’t happy about this one-game suspension, as he explained on Wednesday to ESPN FC:

“[Coach Gregg Berhalter] told me that this morning, and obviously I didn’t agree to it all,” Kamara said. “I won’t agree to it. But he’s the boss, and if he says, ‘We don’t need you for the weekend. You’re going to have to sit out for the weekend,’ there’s nothing I can do about that.

“I said what is on my mind and in my head.”

Fast forward to Thursday, and Kamara is now on a different team. 

It’s hard to believe that the Crew would trade Kamara exclusively because of his actions that began with the PK spat. But if the team had been planning to get rid of their top goal scorer for a while — if, say, his latest antics were indicative of a larger problem — and are merely using this latest episode as justification for his departure, it’s even more curious why they then elected to give Kamara a big contract prior to the start of the season

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