Crew's offseason analysis

Breaking down Columbus' needs and concerns at every position

Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

COLUMBUS, Ohio
– Last week’s MLS Expansion Draft was the next stage in the Crew’s makeover
following a good – but not great – season. Eric
Brunner and Adam Moffat were plucked from Columbus’ roster, and the team has traded or opted out on seven additional players.

“This is the
most significant offseason we’ve had in some time,” Crew president Mark
McCullers said.

More than a third of the roster is gone from a team that had 50 points, reached the
final of the US Open Cup and made it to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF
Champions League. However,
the Crew were knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round for a second
straight season after winning MLS Cup in 2008.

“The
first thing you have to do is evaluate the past season,” McCullers said. “Our
success has been well-documented. Having said that, we have to be honest with
ourselves. We see areas of the team that need improvement and need to be
addressed.”

Here’s
where the Crew stand at each position:

Goalkeeper

Lost: None

Despite
inconsistency, William Hesmer notched 11 shutouts in 2010. His rehabilitation
from a fractured right shoulder is ahead of schedule, and he should be ready to
go for next year.

And
he should have plenty of backup. Andy Gruenebaum provides experience and left
his mark with solid play in the CCL and the Open Cup. And
with the return of the reserve league, look for the Crew to add a third ‘keeper
on a developmental contract that won’t count against the senior roster.

Defenders

Lost: Frankie Hejduk, Gino Padula,
Eric Brunner

Columbus are searching for speedy outside backs, but losing Padula and Hejduk sacrifices
experience on the left and right. Padula saw limited minutes this season after
losing his starting job to swift rookie Shaun Francis.

“If
we can get another guy with our resources that challenges Shaun to make Shaun
better, then we’re doing a good job,” technical director Brian Bliss said.

The
Crew are set at center back, with Chad Marshall acting as anchor and Andy Iro
filling the gap left by Brunner. Though he lacks mobility, Iro has shown
promise, and the tandem makes Columbus formidable in the air.

But right
back remains a major concern, and the Crew may need to invest heavily to
replace Hejduk.

Midfield

Lost: Brian Carroll, Leandre
Griffit, Duncan Oughton, Adam Moffat

The
departures of Oughton, the longest tenured Crew-member, and Griffit will be
felt in the Open Cup and CCL where they logged most of their minutes. The Crew also traded away Brian Carroll to the Union in order to find a midfielder with more bite. But they may already have one to fill in.

“[Danny
O'Rourke] can fill that spot easily,” Warzycha said of finding Carroll’s
successor.

But the rest of the central midfield may prove more difficult. Columbus seem to be
banking on Eddie Gaven and Emmanuel Ekpo serving effectively in the middle,
though both are better suited to the wings. Kevin Burns is another possibility
if he gets healthy.

“It’s
an area of the field we’re looking to upgrade to move the team forward,” said Bliss.

Robbie
Rogers remains a maddening problem on the left, but he will get another chance
to prove himself next year after notching one goal in 20 regular-season games
in 2010. Rogers, Ekpo and Gaven combined for just four goals on the year.
If they remain ineffective, look for second-year Dilly Duka to see more
minutes.

Forward

Lost: Guillermo Barros Schelotto,
Jason Garey

Schelotto
was the Crew’s best player the past four seasons. His absence will change the
dynamics of the team, but Warzycha was never comfortable with playing Columbus’
talisman as a withdrawn forward. He’ll now rely on the power of Andrés Mendoza
and Emilio Renteria and try to wean the team from set-piece reliance.

Garey’s
departure shortens the bench considerably, but look for Steven Lenhart to fill
the gap. Lenhart made 17 starts this season, but scored four of his six goals
as a sub.

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