Winning back-to-back Supporters’ Shield and the 2008 MLS Cup wasn’t enough to keep the Crew from trying to improve.
“I wish we had Beckham. I wish we had Messi and all those guys, but it’s not impossible,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “My wish list is different.”
He was smiling when he said that, and why not? The Crew added depth at left back and in the midfield, and the club hopes it found a striker in Colombian Sergio Herrera to augment what was already a talented and tested team.
“We still have the concept going of keeping the core together as much as possible," technical director Brian Bliss said. "I think we’ve obtained that."
MLSsoccer.com takes a look at the 2010 Columbus Crew, up and down the field.
William Hesmer followed a team-record tying 10 shutouts in 2008 with seven more last year, despite playing 10 fewer matches because of injuries. Another standout season awaits.
Andy Gruenebaum will be the backup once he recovers from hip surgery last fall. He had a nine-game unbeaten streak when Hesmer was out.
Kenny Schoeni spent 2008 with the Crew without playing. Columbus released him last year, so Schoeni signed with Miami FC of USL-1 before rejoining the Crew when Gruenebaum was injured. He made his MLS debut in a 1-0 loss to New England in the regular-season finale.
The Crew is long on experience with Gino Padula, 33, and Frankie Hejduk, 35, manning the left and right corners, respectively, but overall the team lacks quickness.
Still, it’s a savvy bunch anchored in the middle by Chad Marshall, the MLS Defender of the Year in the past two seasons. However, Marshall is injured and will miss Saturday’s season opener vs. Toronto FC, but he should be ready for the April 10 at FC Dallas. Danny O’Rourke can play anywhere in the back and could be paired at center back with either Eric Brunner or Andy Iro while Marshall is out. Jed Zayner is versatile, and he had a breakout season last year filling in for Hejduk. Rookie Shaun Francis will get a chance to earn minutes behind Padula.
“I wouldn’t trade our backline for anybody’s,” Hesmer said.
Columbus lost firepower when central midfielder Brad Evans (five goals in 2008) went to Seattle in the expansion draft, and the team never fully recovered. As is the case elsewhere, there is plenty of depth, but putting out the right mix every match has been a challenge for Warzycha. Adam Moffat provided offensive support (two goals in seven games) in 2008 before knee surgeries ended his season. He was not in top form last season, but he showed signs of wanting unleash long-range bombs once again in the recent CONCACAF series.
Kevin Burns missed 2008 because of injuries but showed that he was a capable late-game sub in the middle last season. Duncan Oughton, the longest tenured Crew player, has been providing the bite since 2001. He has mellowed over the years but still delivers a “not in my yard” tackle when called upon.
Brian Carroll remains the stellar, unsung hero of the squad in the defensive midfielder spot. It’s no coincidence he has been a member of the past four Supporters’ Shield winning teams (twice with D.C., twice with Columbus). O’Rourke has filled in there when Carroll missed several games last season but rookie Othaniel Yanez could be an alternative choice.
“Othaniel in the midfield frees up Danny to play where he’s more helpful to our team, which is in the back,” Bliss said.
Young guns patrol the wings. Emmanuel Ekpo, Eddie Gaven and Robbie Rogers are all 23 or younger and provide unlimited juice running the flanks. Ekpo enters his third season still looking for a position to call his own. He was in the middle at the start of last season and has played on both the right and left. He was even used as a striker in the preseason, but it remains to be seen if he is a full-time player or possibly one of the premier game changers off the bench.
It is hard to believe that Gaven, 23, is entering his eighth season. He was second on the team with six goals last season, and he too can play anywhere in the midfield. His value is understated. Rogers is the enigma. So much talent, so few goals -- just one last season after earning Best XI honors in 2008 with six. He is as fast as anyone down the line, but he rarely closes the deal.
Dilly Duka was the eighth overall pick this year and will be brought along at a rate that will allow him to succeed. He possesses well and has great downfield vision.
Everything begins and ends with Guillermo Barros Schelotto. He had 19 assists when he won league and MLS Cup MVP honors in 2008 and had 14 goals last year when he was asked to play closer to goal.
He will likely be more withdrawn as he was two years ago, especially if Herrera shows the same scoring touch in the box he has for his national team. Herrera did not play against Toluca, so Crew fans are anxious to see if the high-profile acquisition for the departed Alejandro Moreno is a boon -- or a bust.
Steven Lenhart could have a breakout season or break somebody’s nose with his flailing elbows. He showed his scoring prowess with two goals in the first leg against Toluca earlier this month, then was ejected from the return leg. There’s never a dull moment with him. Jason Garey is Mr. Dependable in a reserve role. All he does is score goals, but it appears his days as a starter could be limited due to injuries. Emilio Renteria arrived in August and showed some flash. He’s stocky, but he has pace and can deliver the type of service that puts teammates in scoring position. He links well with Lenhart.