Minnesota United FC has been in quite the “striker situation” since leaving the bubble and beginning Phase 1 of MLS’ return to play.
Over the course of these first six post-tournament matches, Adrian Heath’s squad has lost attacking options Luis Amarilla and Aaron Schoenfeld to injury, leaving Mason Toye as the lone healthy Loon up top. And Toye has struggled with his confidence since being thrust into the starting role.
“I’m still trying to figure a couple things out and get my feet under me,” said Toye earlier this season. “I’m going to continue to try and play simple and let the game come to me.”
On Friday, however, the front office made a bold yet commendable move to help provide depth and goals from the position, bringing in longtime MLS striker Kei Kamara from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for $150,000 in 2021 General Allocation Money and a 2022 2nd round SuperDraft pick.
While Kamara brings a historic goalscoring pedigree to the Black and Blue, ranking fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list with 126 goals, it’s his experience as a leader up top where Minnesota could benefit most.
That’s an aspect of Kamara’s presence that Rapids TV play-by-play broadcaster Richard Fleming has seen up close, and he spoke about it exclusively with Zone Coverage.
“He’s been that young player that has looked up to senior players, and I think he appreciates the role he now has within a squad,” Fleming said. “He’s that veteran guidance, that mentor.”
Coming into this season, with the acquisitions of Amarilla and Schoenfeld to go along with the upward trajectory of Toye, there was optimism for more consistent forward production than previously seen. However, of the 21 Minnesota United goals scored this season, just three have come from strikers (two for Amarilla, one for Toye).
That’s a dismal 15% goal scoring rate from what should be the most dangerous attacking position.
Turning the tide on striker productivity will take a lot more than just goals from Kamara. The Loons need the veteran to make an impact on Toye and the other young members of the roster on the training ground and in the locker room, and Kamara has done exactly that throughout his career, including with one of the world’s best footballers.
“Listening to Stewart Kerr, the goalkeeper coach, who had Kei [Kamara] and was working with Kei in Vancouver, said that Kei had a real big influence on Alphonso Davies there, mentally and off the field,” said Heath.
Obviously, Davies is now widely regarded as the best left back in the world with Bayern Munich, and if any aspect of his development can be traced back to Kamara’s tutelage, the former Colorado player can be an invaluable asset to Minnesota and their future.
So how does Kamara apply that leadership skill to the Loons?
Toye, a second-year player, is extremely early in his career, and while he hasn’t lived up to expectations so far this season, there’s plenty of time for the youngster to continue his development.
Amarilla, the 24-year old Paraguayan brought in to solidify the starting No. 9 role on this squad, has been hampered with injuries and hasn’t lived up to his potential since the restart.
Having a quality player like Kamara to learn from directly could do wonders for Toye’s development and both players’ ability to overcome rough stretches of play like they’ve been experiencing.
“It’s all about confidence,” said Fleming regarding a striker’s mentality. “You have to be selfish. You have to be self-assured. You have to be very single-minded. It’s guaranteed Kei Kamara will have been through such [confidence-shaking] runs. He will know whether it’s an arm around the shoulder or a kick in the backside.”
At 36 years old, the big question is how much longer will Kamara, and his guidance, be around? Despite being at the twilight of his career, Fleming expects the Sierra Leone native to continue to play, and thrive, in MLS for the foreseeable future.
“I spoke to him earlier in the year and kind of whispered to him in preseason, ‘How long you got?’ and he said, ‘I’ve got another 2-3 years,’” Fleming explained. “The desire is there for him to continue playing.”