Crew scouting Argentina to fill roster

Columbus looking at multiple options to fill last 15 squad spots

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Real Salt Lake on Feb. 22 looming, the Columbus Crew have only half of the 30-man roster under contract.

By comparison, the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps have 11 players signed.

“That’s a lot of [open] spots, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think we can press the panic button to have all these guys here and signed by whatever date,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss said. “If we’ve got 21, 22, 23 guys before we play Salt Lake that first game, I think we’ll get to 29 or 30 guys at some point. It’s a little longer-term project.”

Gone are stalwarts Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hejduk, as well as seven others. The only addition has been former Kansas City defender Aaron Hohlbein from last week’s first stage of the MLS Re-Entry Process, and even he has not yet signed.

The Crew have another opportunity to add players in the second stage of the Re-Entry Draft on Wednesday. The Crew have the 10th pick.

Schelotto, Hejduk, Gino Padula and Duncan Oughton are the ex-Crew players in the list of 32 up for grabs. If they are not selected, they will become free agents. It's unlikely that Columbus will bring them back into the fold.

“You never say never, but that’s not the philosophy here,” Bliss said.

Along with Hohlbein, the only other pick in the first stage was D.C. United's selection of former Houston Dynamo forward Joseph Ngwenya.

“I think teams are going to be more active [in Stage 2],” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said.

The Re-Entry Draft is just one avenue for re-stocking the roster. The Crew are expected to sign one or two players from their academy, and the MLS SuperDraft on Jan. 13 could provide several more.

Though all three avenues would help provide the squad with depth, what the Crew really need is help in the middle of the pitch and at defense, especially right back. That’s why Warzycha went on a 10-day scouting trip recently with assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren to the latter's native Argentina.

“The Argentinean market is a good market right now,” Warzycha said. “One time is not going to do it. You have to continue to go and meet people, show your face and the people there can send you some players.”

It helped that Schelotto—and to a lesser extent Padula—is from Argentina.

“Because of Guillermo, some people knew who we [the Crew] were,” he said.

Warzycha said several Argentines are on the list of 12 discovery players submitted to the league last week. Bliss said others are from the US, Europe and at least one from Paraguay. Wednesday’s draft will give the Crew a better indication of how many discovery players they intend to pursue.

“Discovery players probably haven’t played in the league,” Warzycha said. “Sometimes it’s better to get a player familiar with the league and played here one or two years.”

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