2013 in Review: Hope for Crew comes in form of regime change
2013 record: 12-17-5 (41 points); 42 GF / 46 GA (-4 GD)
After another disappointing season, the idea of “rebuilding” is quickly getting old for Columbus Crew fans. Since a mass exodus of players like Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk and Gino Padula, the club has been an ever-changing enigma without any discernible identity.
But a new owner in Anthony Precourt and the hiring of Gregg Berhalter to succeed Robert Warzycha seem to suggest that a new “new era” may be dawning. The former US National Team defender has the reigns of the entire soccer operation as the club's sporting director, and has promised consistency, forward-thinking and even European talent.
The Crew have already parted ways (for now) with players like Danny O'Rourke, Jairo Arrieta, Matias Sanchez and Glauber, and lost Eddie Gaven to retirement. Berhalter's job seems a large one, but veterans Chad Marshall and Federico Higuain and young players like Wil Trapp, Chad Barson,Bernardo Añor and Matt Lampson are reasons for optimism in 2014.
Best Moment of the Year
The Crew's season was at rock bottom. The firing of Robert Warzycha, while necessary, was an unquestionable blow to the organization, and the club was still reeling just two days later. Interim Head Coach and former Technical Director Brian Bliss seemed to be in an impossible position. He had hours to prepare a shocked team for a midweek matchup against the solid Houston Dynamo without star player Higuain. But youngsters Justin Meram and Ryan Finley stepped up, the Crew got a few breaks, and for a fleeting moment on Sept. 4 all was positive in Columbus.
Worst Moment of the Year
While GM (at the time) Mark McCullers claimed that no outcome vs. Seattle on Aug. 31 would have affected the team's decision, the bitter 1-0 home loss to the Sounders will be remembered as the match that sealed Warzycha's fate. Columbus played up a man against Clint Dempsey and Seattle for 83 minutes, and the Crew couldn't muster one goal. Warzycha was fired the next day.
The shock move of the offseason was Gaven's retirement announcement. The quiet leader and fan favorite was an integral part of the side, and everyone expected him to be an important part of the team after returning from injury. He leaves not only a hole on the field, but a huge void off the pitch.
While an honorable mention certainly goes to Ben Speas dedicating his first career goal to fallen teammate Kirk Urso, Higuain's finish in Columbus' 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls was one of the best strikes of the season. The long, looping chip left Luis Robles looking silly, and the outlet pass from Wil Trapp was the rookie's first career assist. The golazo gave Higuain the confidence to hit another ridiculous chip a week later in Toronto.
This one really isn't close. Dominic Oduro had a fantastic – and somewhat surprising – first season in Columbus, but the Crew was clearly a different team without Higuain on the field. The team's captain and Designated Player not only provided a rocket shot and a consistent penalty-kick scorer, but the attack (as ineffective as it was at times) was clearly designed to go through the Argentinian, and without his incisive passing, the Crew would have had very few offensive chances.
Though he was absent for part of the season because of U-20 World Cup duty, Trapp returned to Columbus in July and made an immediate impact in midfield. He started every game the rest of the way, and was often the Crew's only reliable option for passing and ball control other than Higuain. Whether he becomes the face of the franchise or is sold to Europe for millions, locking down Trapp was an important long-term move for the Crew.
Three Offseason Needs
1. Central midfield help: Berhalter is yet another coach who believes he can bring out the potential of Tony Tchani (pictured right). But the Cameroonian was unreliable in 2013, and Trapp still can't do it alone for an entire season. The Crew need a physical presence capable of making a pass in the middle.
2. A consistent performer on the wing: The surprise retirement of Gaven leaves a gaping hole on the wing. Gaven could – and did – play in just about every position, but was one of the team's best playing on either the right or left. The Crew can't replace him off the field, but they need someone to match his productivity on it.
3. A goalscorer: After Arrieta's disappointing season, the Costa Rican is off the roster (for now), and the Crew need to find goals from a forward not named Higuain, especially if they continue to have Oduro play on the right side of midfield instead of up top.