[UNDER THE MICROSCOPE] Once he’d signed Kei Kamara to a new contract last winter, Kansas City Wizards coach Peter Vermes dropped his interest in former Crew striker Stern John. Kamara, 26, scored his 10th goal of the season -- a career best -- in a wild 4-3 comeback win over Houston Wednesday.
Vermes has finally hit upon a system to accommodate his offensive players, though its defensive flaws were exposed somewhat by the Dynamo. He's deployed Kamara as a right wing in a 4-3-3 formation that features Ryan Smith on the left side and either Birahim Diop or Teal Bunbury as a central striker. Josh Wolff can also play the middle slot or one of the flank roles, and Davy Arnaud adds more punch as a roaming attacker.
Kamara hasn’t been much of a provider and has been an average goalscorer during his MLS career, which began with Columbus in 2006. In 68 regular-season games prior to this season, his stats were 12 goals and just three assists. Yet he came into the Houston game having recorded four assists in the previous four games, while playing most of that time in his new role. Against Houston, crossfield balls from left back Roger Espinoza proved to be effective, and on a couple of occasions Kamara did the same by hitting balls for Espinoza and Ryan Smith to work the left flank.
In the 5th minute Kamara outmuscled Brad Davis for the ball, dribbled it up the sideline past Geoff Cameron and slipped a pass up the line that was intended for Arnaux but was intercepted. While he came inside on occasion during the match, he stayed near the white line much of the time, which stretched the Dynamo defenders and provided him and right back Michael Harrington the time and space to scorch Dynamo left back Mike Chabala numerous times.
However, the lack of a true right-sided midfielder occasionally proved costly; center mids Stephan Auvray and David Rocastle, supported by the outside backs, are in charge of the flanks. Houston scored its first goal when Harrington stepped out to challenge for a ball, which was played into the space he vacated before Kamara and anybody else could recover. Cam Weaver tapped in the ensuing cross from Davis.
Backed by a stiff wind in the first half, Kansas City used long balls out of the back from keeper Jimmy Nielsen and his defenders to put the Dynamo back line under pressure. Most of these were aimed at Diop, whose knock-ons and knock-downs delivered balls that Kamara, Smith and Arnaud took at defenders. Midway through the half Diop headed a long kick by Nielsen from the edge of his penalty area into the right channel, where Kamara raced onto it and blasted a shot off the crossbar.
Kamara did get on the board after the Wizards fell behind, 2-0. Pushed way to the right, he looked along the back line to stay onside and then darted into the box to control a nice diagonal ball from Rocastle. This time, he kept the shot low and it clanged off the near post on its way into the net. During his celebration, he ran to the Wizards’ bench to hug Vermes. Yet Houston scored again to take a 3-1 lead at halftime.
At the start of the second half, Kamara launched a pair of crosses aimed at Bunbury – who replaced Diop at halftime -- from near the touchine about 40 yards from goal. He and Harrington and Arnaud found some success interchanging positions and linking up with passes that often forced the Houston defense to scramble.
Kamara got free from Chabala in the 52nd minute to deliver a sharp cross that another sub, Jack Jewsbury, headed past Houston keeper Pat Onstad and Bobby Boswell cleared off the goal line. Bunbury capitalized on a slip by Onstad to cut the lead to 3-2, and in the 72nd minute Kamara drifted inside to make space for Harrington, whose cross rolled for Smith to shoot; it glanced off Adrian Serioux and into the net to tie the game.
Kansas City nearly won it in the 86th minute when Kamara, who is stationed at the near post or far post on most corner kicks, headed an Arnaud corner past Onstad and toward goal; Wolff, the third and final sub, tried to nick it from almost underneath the crossbar but Danny Cruz headed it clear. He nearly reached an ambitious long ball from Jewsbury a few minutes later but at full stretch came up just short, and grimaced on his way back upfield.
The Wizards’ pressure earned a corner kick five minutes into stoppage time; when a partial clearance came to Kamara on the right flank, rather than blasting it blindly, he lobbed it first-time back into the mixer and it drifted just over Bunbury’s head.
When Harrington burst down the right flank again two minutes later, Kamara drew a pair of defenders on the near side Harrington’s cross arced to the far post. It went right to an unmarked Wolff, who didn’t even need to jump while heading it sharply past Onstad for an incredible victory and yet another solid entry on the Kamara ledger.