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Internal dysfunction: Kamara-Higuain kerfuffle leaves Crew SC at crossroads

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Crew SC has been off all season, but pinpointing an issue was tough. As Paul Tenorio writes, now we know it: internal strife. 

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The trouble for Columbus Crew SC runs much deeper than an inability to hit the back of the net.

Watching Columbus play this season, it was difficult to pinpoint where things were going wrong. Crew SC was dominating possession and still generating numerous chances. The goals just weren’t there.

Something seemed off, and a penalty kick against the Montreal Impact on Saturday night shined a light on what looks to be the culprit: locker-room dysfunction. Kei Kamara and Federico Higuain debated who would take the kick. It was an awkward moment between the team’s two stars. It became a real problem after the game -- which Columbus drew, 4-4 after leading, 4-1 -- when Kamara blasted his teammate to reporters.

"You have two goals, you're going for a hat trick, a player that's never scored a hat trick in their career," Kamara said. "What do you do? Do you give it to him or do you take it?”

The story continued.

“He told me he wanted to give it to Ethan and I said, ‘No problem. Let Ethan score,'" the striker said. "Ethan says, ‘No, you can have it.’" Then he [Higuain] says, ‘No, now I get to take it.' … That’s selfish. That’s not teammates. That’s selfishness.”

Kamara wasn’t done yet.

To me and to the relationship to believe in my number 10, my playmaker, there is none.”

- Kei Kamara on Federico Higuain

“I haven’t really had to depend on Pipa at all,” he said, twisting the knife a bit more. “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.”

The kicker line: “To me and to the relationship to believe in my number 10, my playmaker, there is none.”

Per MLSSoccer.com, Higuain has been credited with assists on three of Kamara's 31 goals since joining the Crew.

One could have guessed that Columbus might have some locker room troubles when Kamara went public with his desire to get a bigger contract this offseason. Crew SC obliged, more than doubling his salary from $400,000 to a reported $1 million.

It seems that wasn’t enough to stave off the problems.

Of three passes between each other, one was a kickoff and one was a corner kick.

Let’s start here: What happened on Saturday was silly, petty and downright ridiculous. The fact that Kamara confronted the problem publicly only added to the insanity of the situation. The question is, how does Columbus move forward now?

Could this tension lead to the unthinkable? Might Columbus look to move either Higuain or Kamara? Crew SC coach Gregg Berhalter hinted that it was at least under consideration when he addressed his team’s problems in a blunt and honest interview with the Columbus Dispatch.

“We’re going to do what we feel is best for the team to be successful, whatever that may be,” Berhalter said when asked if he might shake up the roster. “And we’re going to take some time to evaluate it.”

Asked if it would be tough to part with a designated player, Berhalter said, “With any player, we care for each and every one of these guys. Decisions like that are never easy. It’s something we will consider very carefully. And again, the ultimate [factor] will be ‘what’s in the best interest of this football club?’”

That certainly didn’t sound like a ‘no’ from Berhalter, and it will be interesting to see what Crew SC decides to do. The whole interview is worth your time.

One crucial factor is the new contract handed out to Kamara. The striker was on a very moveable number last year, but his new deal might make it tougher to find a trade partner. Kamara could also be shopped in the international market.

It’s crazy that we are even having this conversation. Kamara led the league in scoring last year with 26 goals in the regular- and post-season, and Columbus played for an MLS Cup. Now, not even midway through the season, Columbus looks to be imploding.

I asked Frank Klopas, my broadcast partner and former Chicago Fire and Montreal Impact coach

“Would it be a shock to shop one of those players? Of course, yes,” Klopas said. “But if that’s what it takes to save the group, then you have to. But no one knows if that’s the answer better than Gregg, because he knows his team inside and outside.”

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Crew part with one of their stars? (Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports)

Klopas said that these things happen from time to time. Teams, players and managers have to deal with these situations.

“You have to try to manage it and put it on the table and talk it through,” Klopas said. “It’s not about being friends, but it’s about doing what’s best for the club. If these two guys can move forward, they are two impact players that help the team win a lot of games. … If you can resolve it that’s great, but if you can’t you have to do what’s best for the team.”

Over to you, Gregg Berhalter.

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