Columbus roster taking shape ahead of CCL

Club adds draftees on Thursday; more additions in the pipeline

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Brian Bliss might have surprised himself.

In the wake the offseason purge that left only half of the 30 rosters spots filled in December, the Crew technical director said that there may be only 21 or 22 players under contract when his team played Real Salt Lake in a Champions League quarterfinal on Feb. 22.

As of Friday, the Crew have 26 players signed or awaiting approval for by the league, and offers are pending to three others. A final spot will go to a third goalkeeper.

“We have bodies, but we don’t know what qualities they’re going to be until we get a little but further into the season,” Bliss said. “Depth is going to be an issue for our team and I think a number of teams. We’re happy being where we’re at.”

The Crew announced Thursday the signing of all four 2011 MLS SuperDraft picks – defender Rich Balchan, forward Justin Meram and midfielders Cole Grossman and Bernardo Anor.

Supplemental picks midfielders Ben Sippola and Andy Adlard are expected to sign as well. Crew coach Robert Warzycha said former Loyola (Chicago) midfielder Eric Gehrig and ex-Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Josh Gardner could be officially added to the roster soon.

Also, Serbian midfielder Dejan Rusmir, 31, has been offered a contract.

“We like what we saw of him,” Warzycha said. “If we agree to numbers, he may be joining us.”

Defender Alex Fraga has returned to Brazil without a contract, but Warzycha said he is still in consideration.

The Crew were briefly interested in Aston Villa reserve midfielder Moustapha Salifou, a 27-year-old from Togo who is considering going back to his former club in Switzerland when his contract expires in June. However, Bliss said they might revisit the situation this summer.

Warzycha said there was some interest, too, in Costa Rican attacking midfielder Carlos Hernandez, who is playing for Melbourne Victory in Australia’s A-League, but he is out of the Crew’s price range. He does play a spot where there is a need, though.

“We’re still looking for a central midfielder,” Bliss said. “We went through a host of players whether it was in camp with Rusmir or some of the young kids and a gazillion videos.

“We’re having some good discussions with Rusmir’s agent,” he added. “If he comes he would be a good addition. I still think we would be looking to add another guy in that area of the field but we’ll have to bide our time and see how the team plays the first three months.”


HARD TIMES:

The Crew lost 4-2 to Houston on Thursday in their final preseason game in Arizona before returning to Columbus on Friday.

Defender Shaun Francis left with a groin injury and midfielder Dilly Duka was experiencing abdominal pains and also was substituted. Warzycha said their conditions are unknown.

Gardner (leg) and forward Emilio Renteria (knee) were banged up as well but are expected to be okay.

The Crew already has goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum (hip and groin), midfielder Danny O'Rourke (knee), forward Tom Heinemann (knee) and midfielder Eddie Gaven (knee) rehabbing in Columbus.

Gaven and Gruenebaum may be available for Tuesday’s match.

<p><strong><em>Think you know the game? Test your powers of prediction with MLSsoccer.com's fantasy game,</em> <a href="http://fantasy.mlssoccer.com">Pro Soccer Picks. </a><em>Play <a href="http://fantasy.mlssoccer.com">NOW</a>!</em></strong></p>