Filling the void a tough task for Crew

Loss of six players leaves questions to be answered for 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the Crew chose not to exercise the options
on several of their most popular players, a void was left not only in the
locker room and on the field, but in the community, too.

Team captain Frankie Hejduk ingrained himself with his
carefree attitude off the field, his passion on it and his willingness to
mingle with fans.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto was not only was the maestro in organizing the
attack, he was also an Argentine legend whom Crew president Mark McCullers called an
international icon.

“That loss is not lost on me in particular,” McCullers said.
“Frankie has been one of the most recognizable names on the team the past eight
years. It’s difficult because players like that are hard to find.”

The Crew also parted ways with New Zealand native Duncan
Oughton. With the Black-and-Gold since 2001, he was Columbus’ longest tenured
player, a fixture around the city and a fan favorite.

Also gone are Gino Padula, forward Jason Garey and
midfielder Leandre Griffit. While Griffit arrived midseason, Padula and Garey were
longtime contributors and very popular.

“It’s not like we don’t have star players on this team,”
McCullers said. “We do. Chad Marshall comes to mind. He is clearly one of the
best defenders in the league. Other players, too, are going to emerge as recognizable
names and faces and stars.”

The loss of so many key players leaves a leadership void for
the Crew.

“There are few guys with the opportunity to take that role,”
coach Robert Warzycha said. “One of them is Chad, obviously. Danny O’Rourke and
who knows else?”

Marshall has never been comfortable in front of the media,
but his teammates don’t care as long he has control of the locker room.

Other candidates for the captaincy could be O’Rourke,
goalkeeper William Hesmer, and midfielders Brian Carroll and Eddie Gaven.

Filling out the roster will be a formidable challenge. Not
only must the Crew replace their six departures, but new league rules have
increased roster size next season by six, from 24 to 30. The additional spots
must be filled by developmental players under the age of 24.

Fortunately, the Crew have an excellent academy.

“We’re looking at our homegrown players as well to fill some
of the roster spots,” McCullers said. “They’re guys who don’t necessarily need
to step up right away but we want to get them into that professional
environment and work with them and start their development.”

He knows some fans are fuming that Schelotto and others were
let go, but McCullers said he feels good about the future.

“It’s scary for us, to be honest, but coming out of these
players’ meeting the past two days I’m more excited and enthusiastic now
because we have a group of guys who want to be here,” he said. “In these
meetings I was almost taken aback by their passion and caring for what’s going
on. It really came through.”

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