COLUMBUS, Ohio – As soon as the offseason began, the Crew turned their attention to rebuilding for the 2011 season.
Columbus' plans were to build a young, fast team that would be able to keep up with the most physical of MLS sides and would also last for years to come. To do so, they had to let go of club emblems Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hejduk.
Also gone are Brian Carroll, Jason Garey, Gino Padula, Eric Brunner, Adam Moffat, Leandre Griffit and Duncan Oughton. With the new season only a few months away, the Crew must take care of the following issues.
Find an offensive-minded center midfielder
Columbus' decision to decline the option on Schelotto leaves an unmistakable void. Even though he was more of a withdrawn forward, he was the distributor and the engine that made the Crew go.
“You don’t replace a player of his caliber,” Crew president Mark McCullers said.
To fill the gap and provide service to the forwards, Columbus can look to Emmanuel Ekpo or Eddie Gaven, but neither is best suited there.
[inline_node:312918]Improve forwards’ finishing
Columbus need to score 10 more goals than in 2010. Doing so will raise their tally to 50 for the season, the same number they scored when they won MLS Cup in 2008.
Fill the right back spot
Veteran Hejduk joined Schelotto as one of the Crew faces not coming back for 2011, and the Crew have no one on the roster to replace him. Danny O'Rourke could be used there, but he’s likely to slot into the defensive midfield position vacated by the trade of Carroll to the Philadelphia Union.
Add depth at left back and striker
As much as the Crew like speedy Shaun Francis in the back, he will only be in his second year in 2011 and is still prone to mistakes. Also, he should be getting frequent calls to Jamaica’s national team. That combined means that Columbus should look for a veteran left back to put in the pecking order, or maybe even bring up a talented youngster from the academy system.
Up top, although Jason Garey was considered the fourth forward, he proved to be one of Columbus’ stronger players, providing great work rate and scoring goals when given the chance to get in the game. With Garey dealt to Houston, the Crew need to find someone who can fill his shoes.
Follow the leader
At the top of the priority list is finding a captain to replace Hejduk as well some players who could provide strong leadership. It’s more important than ever, with at least half the roster being new in 2011.
Need for speed, especially in the back
[inline_node:313428]Claiming the need to build a younger, faster team, the Crew allowed veteran faces walk away, including Hejduk, who was still quicker than most on the team despite having lost a step in 2010. Center back Chad Marshall covers a lot of ground in front of ‘keeper William Hesmer, but the lone speed demon among the defenders is Francis.
Take advantage of excellent academy system
The Crew’s U-19 and U-20 teams won national championships and the academy has a bevy of players on college scholarships. With the expanded roster and the renewal of the reserve league, it’s time to sign the first Home Grown product.
Re-establish Crew Stadium as a fortress
Although Columbus set a league-record 22-game unbeaten streak at home in 2008 to 2009, it seems like ages ago that it happened. Not only did the Crew get thrashed 4-0 in Crew Stadium by Seattle, but they suffered three straight shutouts there in 2010 and were eliminated from the playoffs in front of home fans for a second consecutive year.
The first chance for redemption is Feb. 22 against Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
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