Columbus weighing options to expand roster

Currently at 17 men, Crew look to fill remaining spots abroad

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As the Columbus Crew continue restocking their roster for the upcoming 2011 season, the next step in the process is the MLS SuperDraft in Baltimore on Thursday.

Barring a trade, the Crew could walk out of Thursday’s draft three players richer as they slowly push towards the newly-expanded 30-man roster limit.

There are 17 players currently under contract, but technical director Brian Bliss said he is not concerned if there is not a full roster by the opening of preseason camp in two weeks, or by the time they face Real Salt Lake on Feb. 22 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

“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,” Bliss said. “It’s a little longer-term project.”

The only two offseason signings to date have been Chilean defender Sebastián Miranda and forward Tom Heinemann.

“We don’t want to rush into it just to get 30 guys,” team president Mark McCullers said.

Bliss has hinted that there will be two or three more signings of the caliber of Miranda, but not to expect any Designated Player-level acquisitions.

“They’ll not be overly expensive, but not cheap either,” Bliss said.

If the team were to obtain a couple of more international free agents, that would bring the total to 19. The team is also considering re-signing midfielder Leandre Griffit and is working on a contract for 2010 SuperDraft pick Kwaku Nyamekye, who did not play last season.

The Swiss-born Nyamekye and the Frenchman Griffit would require foreign slots and, particularly in the case of Nyamekye – a center back – the team would want to be assured he would be contributor to the first team before signing him.

Several more minor league players are also expected to be signed, and the Crew are working on deals for several players through the discovery process.

Two other options for Columbus to snag some talent are next week’s new, three-round Supplemental Draft and the possibility of signing some homegrown talent from their academy system.

The wildcards in the building of the roster are Re-Entry picks Aaron Hohlbein, a defender, and forward Jeff Cunningham, who is currently training with IK Start in Norway.

The team is currently progressing as if neither of the two will sign.