The Crew roster is taking shape maybe even faster than the team anticipated.
With Friday’s signing of forward Jeff Cunningham, Columbus now own the rights to 25 players as they prepare to leave Saturday to Arizona, where they will continue their preseason training.
If each player makes the final cut in March, including the seven rookies (defender Kwaku Nyamekye among them, since he was drafted in 2010 but did not sign), that would leave up to five spots for non-home grown talent.
One of the vacancies will be filled by a third goalkeeper.
Prior to the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, technical director Brian Bliss said there might be only 21 or 22 players under contract heading into the Feb. 22 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against Real Salt Lake.
[inline_node:314063]Since then, the Crew have picked up a fourth SuperDraft selection by trading Steven Lenhart to San Jose, added a pair of players through the Supplemental Draft, signed Nyamekye, re-signed midfielder Leandre Griffit and inked Cunningham to a multi-year deal.
Cunningham’s return to Columbus after a six-year absence gives the club five forwards and means adding more players at that position is low on the priority list.
“I’m not saying yes or no,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “If something comes up and it’s going to be the right guy, we’ll sign another striker.”
The team’s main focus now is to find experienced cover for the defensive corps and central midfield.
Warzycha said one player from Argentina, one from Serbia and maybe another from Brazil will train with the Crew in Arizona in attempts to fill the holes.
COMING ALONG — Invitees who trained in Columbus and will travel to Phoenix are goalkeepers Caleb Patterson-Sewell and Ray Burse Jr., defender Mark Blades, former Crew midfielder Cory Elenio and Argentine midfielder Neri Bandiera.
ON THE WAY OUT — Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee ended his two-day workout with the team on Thursday and ex-Crew defender and trialist Nelson Akwari was not invited to Arizona.
Under-contract players Tom Heinemann and Danny O'Rourke will remain in Columbus to rehab knee surgeries.
[inline_node:326901]KEEPING AN EYE — William Hesmer is recovering nicely from a separated shoulder suffered in October and Warzycha is optimistic his starting ‘keeper be ready for the RSL match.
“When we go to Arizona, he’s going to start diving pretty soon,” Warzycha said.
The news is not so great for backup Andy Gruenebaum, who is having lingering effects from hip surgery in September 2009 and is at least several weeks away from full training.
“I hope he comes back, but if he’s not [ready], we’re going to have to take the necessary steps and maybe do something to acquire another 'keeper,” Warzycha said.
KICKIN’ IT — The Crew will play five preseason games in Phoenix: Feb. 5 vs. Sporting KC, Feb. 8 vs. Vancouver; Feb. 10 vs. Seattle, Feb. 14 vs. Colorado and Feb. 17 vs. Houston.
There will be one game in Chattanooga, Tenn., on March 6 vs. New England followed by games in Atlanta on March 9 (New England) and two days later against new Eastern Conference rivals Houston.
In addition to the home Champions League game vs. RSL, there is the return leg March 1 in Sandy, Utah, and a possible semifinal tentatively set for March 14 before the regular-season opener March 19 at D.C. United.