Addition of Mendes gives Crew depth in central defense

Veteran defender will compete for starter's spot while James heals

The Columbus Crew roster has several players who could potentially start at center back next season, beginning with 2011 regulars Chad Marshall and Julius James. But a closer look reveals why the Crew brain trust added to that number when they selected New York Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes in Stage 1 of Major League Soccer’s 2011 Re-Entry Process on Monday.

A gaggle of health issues, most notably shoulder surgery for James that could keep him out past the start of the season in March, made it imperative the Crew add depth in central defense.

“[Mendes] has a lot of years playing in this league,” Crew technical director Brian Bliss told MLSsoccer.com on Monday. “He’s well respected by his peers. He can be a starter.”

Mendes, who turns 31 on Christmas, has spent all seven of his years in Major League Soccer in New York, and was the last player from the MetroStars era before the franchise was bought by Red Bull and rebranded in 2006. He appeared in 146 regular-season games (128 starts) for New York, plus 11 playoff matches, totaling more than 12,000 minutes.

His experience could come in handy considering Marshall had arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle after the 2011 season — though the Columbus captain is expected to be ready for the start of preseason training in January.

As mentioned, Marshall wasn’t alone in being repaired. James underwent surgery a month ago and is expected to be sidelined four-to-six months. Candidates to replace him include second-year player Rich Balchan, who underwent sports hernia surgery himself in late October, and Danny O’Rourke.

O’Rourke struggled to recover from major knee surgery in November 2010 and was limited to six games this season.

“Hopefully, [O'Rourke] will be good to go,” coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com. “Rich has athleticism and obviously is a good player, but he needs a little more time to adjust to the league and he needs to be mentally ready. Bringing in Carlos will give us some time and competition.”

His addition should also help James’ recovery, according to Bliss.

“Now we’re not under any time constraints to rush [James] back because we’ve gone through preseason trying Eric Gehrig in there, trying Balchan in there, trying Danny in there and trying to find the right combination,” the GM explained.

Besides, Bliss thinks O’Rourke and Balchan will get the bulk of their work in the center midfield. Balchan excelled at defensive midfielder before his injury, while O’Rourke isn’t shy about his preference to play higher up the pitch.

Notes:

Mendes was teammates with both O’Rourke and midfielder Eddie Gaven in New York. Gaven and Mendes played together in 2005, while O’Rourke and Mendes were teammates in 2006, the franchise’s first year owned by Red Bull.

Neither Mendes nor O’Rourke (152 regular-season and playoff games) have scored in an MLS match. In his seven years in the league, Mendes has just two shots on frame.