COLUMBUS, Ohio – Last week’s MLS Expansion Draft was the next stage in the Crew’s makeover following a good – but not great – season. Eric Brunner and Adam Moffat were plucked from Columbus’ roster, and the team has traded or opted out on seven additional players.
“This is the most significant offseason we’ve had in some time,” Crew president Mark McCullers said.
More than a third of the roster is gone from a team that had 50 points, reached the final of the US Open Cup and made it to the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League. However, the Crew were knocked out of the playoffs in the opening round for a second straight season after winning MLS Cup in 2008.
“The first thing you have to do is evaluate the past season,” McCullers said. “Our success has been well-documented. Having said that, we have to be honest with ourselves. We see areas of the team that need improvement and need to be addressed.”
Here’s where the Crew stand at each position:
Despite inconsistency, William Hesmer notched 11 shutouts in 2010. His rehabilitation from a fractured right shoulder is ahead of schedule, and he should be ready to go for next year.
And he should have plenty of backup. Andy Gruenebaum provides experience and left his mark with solid play in the CCL and the Open Cup. And with the return of the reserve league, look for the Crew to add a third ‘keeper on a developmental contract that won’t count against the senior roster.
Lost: Frankie Hejduk, Gino Padula, Eric Brunner
Columbus are searching for speedy outside backs, but losing Padula and Hejduk sacrifices experience on the left and right. Padula saw limited minutes this season after losing his starting job to swift rookie Shaun Francis.
“If we can get another guy with our resources that challenges Shaun to make Shaun better, then we’re doing a good job,” technical director Brian Bliss said.
The Crew are set at center back, with Chad Marshall acting as anchor and Andy Iro filling the gap left by Brunner. Though he lacks mobility, Iro has shown promise, and the tandem makes Columbus formidable in the air.
But right back remains a major concern, and the Crew may need to invest heavily to replace Hejduk.
Lost: Brian Carroll, Leandre Griffit, Duncan Oughton, Adam Moffat
The departures of Oughton, the longest tenured Crew-member, and Griffit will be felt in the Open Cup and CCL where they logged most of their minutes. The Crew also traded away Brian Carroll to the Union in order to find a midfielder with more bite. But they may already have one to fill in.
“[Danny O'Rourke] can fill that spot easily,” Warzycha said of finding Carroll’s successor.
But the rest of the central midfield may prove more difficult. Columbus seem to be banking on Eddie Gaven and Emmanuel Ekpo serving effectively in the middle, though both are better suited to the wings. Kevin Burns is another possibility if he gets healthy.
“It’s an area of the field we’re looking to upgrade to move the team forward,” said Bliss.
Robbie Rogers remains a maddening problem on the left, but he will get another chance to prove himself next year after notching one goal in 20 regular-season games in 2010. Rogers, Ekpo and Gaven combined for just four goals on the year. If they remain ineffective, look for second-year Dilly Duka to see more minutes.
Lost: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Jason Garey
Schelotto was the Crew’s best player the past four seasons. His absence will change the dynamics of the team, but Warzycha was never comfortable with playing Columbus’ talisman as a withdrawn forward. He’ll now rely on the power of Andrés Mendoza and Emilio Renteria and try to wean the team from set-piece reliance.
Garey’s departure shortens the bench considerably, but look for Steven Lenhart to fill the gap. Lenhart made 17 starts this season, but scored four of his six goals as a sub.