2010 Columbus Preview

Columbus is back from a disappointing finish, with on-board GBS

The Tweet and
Lowdown:

The
defending-champions target gone, the Crew are a year wiser. And older. Can
GBS’s legs hold out? Can Lenhart score a dozen goals?

Setting the Scene:

If the
Columbus Crew’s run to its first and only MLS Cup trophy in 2008 was magical,
2009 opened with a gut-punch from reality. Playing under a new coach, Robert
Warzycha, and carrying defending champions’ usual heavy expectations, the Crew
failed to win in its first seven games.

But it’s
hard to keep a talented side down for long. Guillermo Barros Schelotto and a
resurgent Eddie Gaven began clicking on offense, while centerback Chad Marshall
shored up the backline. The team whipped off five wins in a row midseason and
climbed up into first place in the East.

Last
season also marked Columbus’s return to the CONCACAF Champions League. Despite
struggling against Mexican side Cruz Azul, the Crew finished second in the
group to advance to the quarterfinals.

But the
extra games took their toll. Road weary and run down, the Crew faltered down
the stretch. Though they held onto the conference lead to win the Eastern crown
for a second straight season, they lost three of their last four league matches
and managed only one goal in that stretch.

The
downward spiral continued in playoffs when the Crew face Real Salt Lake in the
Conference Semifinals. They lost the away leg, 1-0—with Barros Schelotto
controversially starting on the bench—then gave up a late goal in the home leg,
going down 3-2 to their eventual successors as MLS champions.

Key Changes:

- Players in: Sergio Herrera (Deportivo Cali)
Dilly Duka (Rutgers), Bright Dike (Notre Dame) Shaun Francis (Lindsey Wilson
College) Kwaku Nyamekye (Harvard)

-Players Out: Alejandro Moreno (Philadelphia
Union)

Star Attraction: Guillermo
Barros Schelotto

Rumors
claimed GBS, the creative genius in Columbus’s attack and a favorite of the
supporters in the Nordecke, was headed home to Argentina this offseason.
Instead, he renegotiated his contract, forfeited his Designated Player tag, and
returned rarin’ to go.

Since
joining the Crew in 2007, the Boca Juniors legend has only been the most
consistently creative player in the league, notching 24 goals and 33 assists in
73 games. He will, however, turn 37 in May. Can his body hold out?

Unsung Hero: Eddie
Gaven

It seems
as if Gaven should be about 30 years old by now. He’s been around so long,
roving up and down the flank, whipping crosses in, and fearlessly getting into
the box, it’s hard to believe he’s still only 23. He’s just entering his prime.

Last
year’s goal tally of six was the most since 2005, Gaven’s last season in New
York. He thrives in the shadows of Barros Schelotto, running off the Argentine,
receiving the ball in space. His crossing has improved, and if his recent Champions
League performances are any indication, he looks poised to have a big year.

Ready for
Primetime:
 Steven
Lenhart

You
can’t miss him on the field, that’s for sure: solid 6-1 frame, floppy blond
mane and a demolition-derby style of play. But despite all the accoutrements,
Lenhart has the burgeoning talent to match his character. He scored only three
goals last season, but for real evidence, check out his two goals against
Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League earlier this month.

With
Moreno’s departure to Philly, the striker position is wide open. Warzycha says
Lenhart has the potential to snag it. “He is still young,” he tells
MLSsoccer.com. “He has to be more consistent. You hope, as a coach, to have
someone you can rely on. Maybe that can be Steve.”

Storylines to Watch:

Columbus
still has as much if not more talent, all over the pitch, than any side in the
league. Doubts creep in based on the lack of consistency from some of the
budding stars, namely, Robbie Rogers and Emmanuel Ekpo. Each is a bristling
coltish talent with the potential to change a game on his own. Sometimes
they’ve actually done it. Other times, they’ve looked out of their depth. Can
they find the right balance?

Same
goes for the attack. Last year, while Barros Schelotto was firing on all
cylinders, the rest of the striking corps sputtered. The threesome of Moreno,
Lenhart, and Jason Garey finished with a combined 11 goals—one less than Barros
Schelotto alone. Warzycha needs someone to score in double-digits if they are
going to contend for any hardware. The answer could be newcomer Sergio Herrera,
who averaged more than 10 goals per season over the last three years at
Deportivo Cali.

The
defense is still the Crew’s strength. Chad Marshall is the backbone, Brian
Carroll does the midfield dirty work, and captain Frankie Hejduk and Gino
Padula man the flanks. That leaves Eric Brunner. Too many mistakes by Brunner
in 2009 left the Crew vulnerable. Now 24, the 6-4 local kid has to have a
strong season.

What He Said:

“We have
to start the season on a high note because if we are winless in the first seven
again, we will have trouble. We took the season too light last year. We thought
we were a good team.”

--Head
coach Robert Warzycha

If everything goes
right:

Warzycha
is no longer a rookie coach trying to fill the legendary Sigi Schmid’s shoes.
He has smartly refused to tinker too much with his predecessor’s roster. Why
would he? The same core has won two straight Eastern Conference championships.
And if Barros Schelotto can stay healthy, a striker emerges as a legitimate
scoring threat, and the defense maintains its impressive discipline, the third
championship should arrive relatively handily.