Change afoot in Columbus for 2011 season

Crew say farewell to veterans; aim to build faster, younger team

Guillermo Barros Schelotto greets fans.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – What will the Crew look like in 2011 without forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto and right back Frankie Hejduk in the lineup? Faster and younger.

With the announcement Tuesday that the options for Schelotto (age 37) Hejduk (34), left back Gino Padula (34) and midfielder Duncan Oughton (33) would not be exercised, changes are afoot.

The Crew's 50 points in the regular season were good for second-most in team history, but the team lost in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight year. That prompted the club to evaluate which areas needed to improve to help get the team past the MLS Cup semifinal hump.

“We feel like now is the time to address those needs,” Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday, listing speed, finishing and one-on-one defending in all areas of the pitch as areas that needed to be dealt with. “Our team seemed a step slow this year more often than not. We should have scored 10 more goals than we did this year.”

This season, the Crew scored 40 goals (one less than in 2009). Out of those, Schelotto led the club with nine, bringing his total tally mark in Columbus to 33 over three-and-a-half seasons that saw him win the 2008 MLS MVP award to go along with that year’s MLS Cup. The veteran Argentine also dished out 41 assists in his Crew career.

“You don’t replace a Guille Barros Schelotto,” McCullers said. “Let’s not set ourselves up for failure. It’s impossible.”

Also, a replacement for Hejduk is needed at right back. That could be versatile Danny O'Rourke, who underwent knee surgery but is expected to be ready for the start of the season.

“He can play central defender, right back, left back and defensive midfield also,” head coach Robert Warzycha said of O’Rourke. “We have to find a spot for him. I think he’s a starter for this team.”

Schelotto and Hejduk were regulars in 2010 while Padula lost his starting job to rookie Shaun Francis. Oughton had only 41 minutes in league play but was saw considerable time in the Champions League and US Open Cup.

“If you look at the Colorado playoff games, we are losing two [starters, Schelotto and Hejduk] from that roster,” McCullers said. “We still believe in the core of the team we have. We’re going to be looking for a few players to address certain areas of need. We’re going to get the best possible players we can with the resources we have.”

McCullers said September acquisition Andrés Mendoza and Emilio Renteria, whose knee injury kept him out of the playoff series loss to Colorado, will be vital next season.

“We think a Rentería-Mendoza forward tandem, with [Emmanuel] Ekpo as a central midfielder – who I thought was very dynamic in the playoff series – is a formidable front-three triangle, with [Eddie] Gaven and [Robbie] Rogers on the wings,” McCullers said.

Technical director Brian Bliss stressed that the team will still be looking for a playmaker to push the attack.

“We’ve shown we have flexibility in the group in the middle with Ekpo and Eddie,” he said. “Are those guys 30-game guys in there? We’re not quite sure, so that leaves myself, Robert and the rest of our coaches looking within the league for a possible trade or from outside the league.”

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