With Kei Kamara's departure for Norwich for at least the first 10 games of the MLS season, there's a hole to fill not only on the right wing, but offensively.
First, let's just get it out of the way, you can't just replace Kamara. No one on KC's roster at this time plays the same style and the same way that Kamara does. We're not just going to be straight up replacing him on the field. There will likely be changes in the way things are done to compensate for his loss.
In the 2012 season, Sporting went 7-3 in the first 10 games of the season. Kamara scored 4 goals and added 2 more assists during that stretch. He also missed a penalty kick against FC Dallas in the 3rd game of the season.
On the surface that doesn't seem like a lot, but outside Kamara, only 4 players scored 4 goals in league play last year all season. CJ Sapong had 9, Teal Bunbury and Graham Zusi had 5 and Jacob Peterson had 4. It's certainly easy to say that Claudio Bieler will be able to make up those 4 goals lost from Kamara and Benny Feilhaber should easily be able to make up the 2 assists in that stretch that KC is losing.
The thing with that line of thinking though is that Bieler and Feilhaber weren't brought in just to make up for the goals KC is now losing from Kamara. They were brought in to add to KC's goal total by either putting the ball in the net or setting up others.
Another worry is that if Norwich does pick up the option to buy Kamara. Then you have to replace a player who had either a goal or an assist in 45% of KC's goals in the 2012 season. And in the past 3 years, he's contributed to 38% of KC's goals with 30 goals and 18 assists. That's quite a bit of offense that will need to be replaced. As mentioned above Beiler and Feilhaber were brought in to help supplement Kamara's goals, not straight replace them. Replacing the goals will certainly be one thing that will need to happen for KC's success this year.
Along with the offensive production, there's a hole now on KC's right wing in attack. A lot of KC's attack in the last two seasons has gone down KC's right hand side, especially after Bobby Convey's injury last year. Kamara and right back, Chance Myers, did a fantastic job of combining down the right side the past two years for KC.
As I stated above, KC isn't going to be able to just straight replace Kamara and they're not just going to be able to replace that attack. The first thing that will hopefully help to fill the hole left by Kamara is going to be the health of Convey. When Convey was healthy, KC was able to attack more down both sides of the field. If Convey can remain healthy for the 2013 season, he'll take some of the pressure off of whoever fills in Kamara's role in the right wing position. Not putting as much pressure on that position to produce the same numbers as Kamara did will help.
There's also who will replace him on the field. During his Twitter chat on the way back from Tucson, Robb Heineman was asked who he thought Peter Vermes would play in Kamara's spot. Heineman's response was that CJ Sapong was probably at the top of the list. Last night in the team's friendly against FC Tucson, that's exactly where Sapong played, in the right forward role. And while it was a minor league team, Sapong and Myers combined well down the right and Myers got off plenty of crosses. The other end of the crosses was the problem last night.
While Sapong is probably the leader to start on the right, there are other options. Graham Zusi, who was away with the national team last night, is another option to start on the right. He spent time as a wide forward last season after Teal Bunbury and Jacob Peterson went down and Convey remained injured. Zusi did a strong job on the wing, and that's a position he's played for the USA when they've run a 4-3-3, so he isn't out of his element on the right hand side. The argument against that is that you miss his presence in the middle. But with the addition of Feilhaber that may negate that a bit.
You also have the currently injured Jacob Peterson. Peterson enjoyed a career year with KC last year that was cut short by injury. He equaled a career high for league goals last year with 4 and was one of KC's most consistent players in the middle of the season when they were struggling at times to get results. Peterson spent time out wide on the left wing last season, but KC's system last year saw him spending time on the right side as well as he and Kamara flowed from one side to the other. The question with Peterson is going to be how long he's going to be out still recovering from the shoulder surgery. He's already set to miss the season opener because of it.
Teal Bunbury is an outside option of the forwards that could play on the right side. He's probably the least likely of those listed so far. So far with Sporting he's not shown a great ability out wide. He's played out there occasionally, his first professional goal for example, came from him playing out wide against the Colorado Rapids in the US Open Cup. The big issue with Bunbury, like with Peterson, is his current injury. He's out until at least the summer probably, which means he'd likely only be seen as a replacement for Kamara if the move to Norwich becomes permanent. Still I'd prefer Sapong, Peterson, or Zusi to start on the right wing over Bunbury, and see him in the middle either as a starter or spelling Bieler.
You also have a few wild cards that could play out wide as well. Guys like Benny Feilhaber or Peterson Joseph could move up from midfield and potentially play out as a wide forward. Both are more suited for the midfield, but it's not out of the realm of possibility.
Another two wild cards are KC's other two forwards, Dom Dwyer and Soony Saad. Dwyer was close to going on loan to St. Mirren earlier this transfer window, but had the loan called off at the last minute, was the Norwich interest in Kamara the reason for that? If you want to connect dots it certainly looks like it. Dwyer has spent some time on the wing for KC, specifically in his run out against Orlando in the US Open Cup. Much of the rest of his time has been spent in the center of the forward line. Like Dwyer, Saad isn't really a wide forward, but has spent time there for KC since he joined the club. Saad though seems more likely to drop further back, into the midfield than move wide. He didn't spend much time at all out wide last night in the friendly against Tucson, instead staying more centrally.
So there are options to replace Kamara at the right wing position for the short term. Baring injuries in the rest of preseason, I expect the forward line on March 2nd in Philadelphia to be Convey on the left, Bieler in the middle, and Sapong on the right side. Once Peterson is healthy I could see him getting more starts on the right, allowing Sapong to come in off the bench for Bieler, especially if Bieler's fitness issues don't get resolved quickly (he finished second to last on the beep test after Jimmy Nielsen).
At this time, I don't believe that we're going to see Sporting jump back
into the market looking for a forward to replace Kamara on the right
hand side, instead I think they're likely to stick with who they have,
at least for the short term. Overall, while Kansas City won't be able to get a straight swap for Kamara on the wing, the team does have options that can at least fill in adequately until he returns in May or it's apparent he won't return and KC starts shopping for someone who plays right wing as their primary position.