This weekend's match pits our lads against the top striker in MLS so far in 2015: Kei Kamara. Through the first eleven games of the season he's scored nine goals. The entire rest of the Columbus Crew roster have scored only eight. One would be tempted to say that if you shut down Kamara, you shut down the Columbus offense. But when a single player is scoring so many goals, it's obvious that is a task much easier said than done.
So what is making Kamara such a good scorer this season? When you look at the statistics on the Columbus roster, two other numbers jump out right away, and another is more subtle, and yet very important. The two easy-to-spot numbers are Kamara's shots taken (46) and his shots on goal (21). Both are far and away the most on the squad, with Justin Meram the second in both categories: 27 shots and 12 shots on goal. But the other column of numbers that takes a little bit of analysis and adjustment to see is the assist column. So far in 2015 there are five different players that have registered multiple assists, including Kamara himself (2), and four more players each have a single assist.
Those numbers may not mean a whole lot when you look at them in isolation, but let's throw up some other numbers for comparison, say by using our own Orlando City roster. Orlando City's leading scorer is the captain, Kaka, who has five goals through 12 matches. Cyle Larin has four goals, and four other players each have one. So that means Kamara on his own has two thirds of the goals of our entire roster. Granted I know some are going to cry that we're only an expansion squad and they would be right. I'm not complaining about our scoring, I'm simply laying out facts to make a comparison.
If we look at those other numbers we analyzed for Columbus, Orlando City has a much more balanced array of shots (22 - Kaka, 17 - Larin, 16 - Rivas, and 14 - Molino are the top four) and shots on goal (9 - Kaka, 6 - Larin, and 4 each for Rivas and Molino). Meanwhile, only seven players on the entire Orlando City roster have registered assists this season, with Kaka and Ramos being the only ones to have more than one (2 each).
Numbers on a stat sheet can tell you what happened, but they can't explain the how or the why of it. Now granted I've not studied Columbus by watching a lot of their matches, but I did notice something in watching their most recent match, played last Friday night at home in Columbus against the Chicago Fire. What I saw was Kamara's ability to make space for himself without the ball. When Columbus has possession, he just seems to be able to drift away from the player marking him and find open space. And his teammates are taking great advantage of this. They seem to actively look for him to get separation near the top of the area and then feed the ball into him with crossing or forward passes. The result of this was that in the match last Friday Kamara scored both of the Crew's goals.
So we go back to my original hypothesis: it does indeed seem that if you can stop Kamara, you can stop the Columbus offense. But this is going to be no small feat for an Orlando City side that's seen its fair share of injuries. At Coach Heath's show last night, he indicated several of the walking wounded are very close to returning, including Lewis Neal and Aurelien Collin, but as Coach showed with his patience in allowing Martin Paterson and Tally Hall to get back to full fitness, he's not going to rush anyone back on the pitch before they are medically sound. And of course we will also be without Brek Shea this match, since he is serving his red card suspension.
If we see the same back four on defense for Orlando City that have played in the last several matches, the squad will need to be very vigilant to watch for Kamara and try to keep him from being able to make any space for himself when he doesn't have the ball. Otherwise we're tempting fate by giving him an opportunity to receive passes in from his teammates and add to his impressive numbers for shots, shots on goal, and possibly goals scored. I really don't want to see that happen. Do you?
So what are your thoughts on Saturday's match? Who do you think will match up the best with Kamara out of our likely starters on the back line? And what is your score prediction for the match?