Columbus Crew SC’s trade of Ola Kamara certainly falls into the blockbuster category and it seems like there is a lot of benefit for everyone involved. Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter thinks Gyasi Zardes will be a difference maker in his system.
“We know he has a diverse skill set. We know he’s proven at the international level, both scoring goals and performing well. And we are going to work with him and work with the team to maximize his skill set. I think we see him as a guy who has the ability to score goals and we are excited to work with him.”
The versatility of Zardes was a major selling point.
“We know he has versatility to play in wide positions,” Berhalter continued. “We see him primarily as a striker and we think he will be able to score goals. Make no mistake about it, we think this move is making this team better. We think Gyasi has the potential to be an elite striker in this league. We are more than comfortable going into the season with him as the #1 striker. That is not to say that we are not going to add attacking players to our roster. That is a possibility. We are going to look to strengthen this team and we think this move makes a better team.”
The addition of Targeted Allocation Money is also very valuable. The Crew received $400,000 in TAM and could even receive an additional $100,000 if Kamara scores 12 goals or more for the Galaxy.
“We are going to look to bring in other players, most likely players that fall within that TAM threshold and this money will give us some flexibility to do so,” Berhalter added. “Over the course of these transactions that we have been making, we have been amassing a good quantity of TAM. We will be using it on strengthening the roster so we expect to use this money as well to help the team and in the end come out a better team.”
The combination of talent and money made Crew SC pull the trigger on the deal. It was believed that they had received a number of inquiries, including an offer of at least $1 million from a club outside the U.S.
“I think the important thing for this deal was for us to acquire a player that we felt has a lot of upside and can help the team immediately,” Berhalter noted. “That was one of the prerequisites for doing this deal. The other part was we wanted to get enough value for Ola considering the way he has performed over the last two years in this league. So looking at this particular transaction we felt Gyasi is a very versatile attacking player with potential to fit into our system very nicely and be able to acquire funds that we can do some future transactions. It was important. There were other teams interested and we felt that this deal would give us the best opportunity to maximize the value for Ola.”
It’s been a busy week for the Crew SC front office, but don’t expect this to be the very last move. Something could happen sooner rather than later according to Berhalter.
“I like to assemble the team early and be able to work with the team. I think our playing style takes time for new players to adapt and the quicker they’re in, the more time we have time to train with him. I think that was an important part of it. From a planning standpoint, it is nice to have some of these deals done before.”
Berhalter also defended Kamara’s character amidst rumors that the Norwegian striker was an unhappy presence in the Columbus locker room.
“He was nothing but professional. I give Ola a lot of credit for continuing to perform at such a high level and not letting that news disturb him or his relationship within the group. At no point in the year was our relationship one bit strained. When I look toward the future and planning our team, we just got younger, we got a versatile dynamic attacking player, and we are able to acquire some funds. This deal is a win-win for everyone. This is a case where Ola is playing in a higher profile market. I have no idea whether he will restructure his deal or what. It gives us a lot of flexibility and we’re adding an excellent player in Gyasi.”
Berhalter insisted that the roster is stronger because of this deal. The move makes a lot of sense on a number of fronts. Kamara was looking for a move and who knows how he would respond to staying in Columbus for another entire season. Crew SC years a player that is two years younger and could eventually be cheaper. Kamara had a base salary of $450,000 last year, but he was looking for a significant raise in 2018 in beyond. Some even reported that the Oslo, Norway native was actually looking for a seven-figure salary.
Zardes made $577,500 in 2017, but it is hard to imagine him asking for a bump up in salary. Yet Zardes is only 26 and could be coming into his prime just in time to lead Crew SC to glory. The LA native has significantly more national team caps (37) than Kamara (9) and more goals at the international level (six compared to one) too.
“I think that our job is to make our team better,” Berhalter concluded. “I think this move makes our team better in the sense that we have an excellent attacking player added to our roster and we have funds to improve the team even more. Our job is to strengthen every position and this move will help us do that. I see it being a case where we are making these moves to become better.”
The trade of Kamara prompted questions about Justin Meram’s future and Berhalter was quick to respond with clear messaging.
“Right now Justin is an important part of this team. My stance is very clear: unless we get an offer that is going to significantly benefit the club, he’s not going to move. I think that is an important distinction. Anytime a player asked to be traded, we have to evaluate the offer and we have to make sure it makes sense from a club standpoint. Because our job is to be a better team this year and that’s what we are focused on. We would entertain something if it is going to strengthen our team and help us in the long run. That’s the only scenario we’d look to do something.”
Simply put, Crew SC would need something significant to move the Iraqi international, another player that is drawing interest both home and abroad.
Berhalter also discussed the left back position as an area where improvement could take place. He seemed to endorse the work of Hector Jiménez, but at the same time, leave the door open to some changes there.
“We are always comfortable with Hector you know that. I think that doesn’t mean that we aren’t looking to add another player. Left back, there’s no secret, is a position that we are looking to strengthen. I’d say before preseason is over we would look to add that player.”
The Columbus roster now sits at 24 players with only three listed as forwards. Today’s transaction is thought to be a risky one by some, but the potential reward is so much higher. Zardes could become a star in MLS and on the international scene. He has the skills and experience to be the next big thing and that is great news for Columbus Crew supporters.