Finding a replacement for their top scorer is a tradition almost as old as the Columbus Crew themselves, and the search is on again after they parted with Andrés Mendoza last week following a tumultuous 15-month relationship.
The Crew declined an option on Mendoza, whose 13 goals – fourth most in MLS this season – were not enough to offset issues about his work ethic and character in the eyes of the management that made him a Designated Player in 2011.
Coach Robert Warzycha said finding an offensive center midfielder who not only scores but helps others get goals is the top priority. However, if the right striker comes along the team will not pass up the opportunity to sign him.
“If we can find the forward for what the team needs, which is commitment, work hard and score goals, then we can put more money toward that player,” he said.
Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers knows the type of forward he covets.
“First and foremost we need a player who is going to be a solution on the field," he said, "from a positional standpoint, a technical standpoint and a personality standpoint.”
Getting him and holding onto him are two different stories, because the Crew have a history of seeing their No. 1 marksman leave. On eight occasions, the player who led the club in goals was gone after the following season or sooner, beginning with the club’s second year:
1997 – “Sneaky” Pete Marino had eight goals but was traded to Kansas City before the 1998 season.
1999 – Stern John led the club with 26 goals in 1998 and 18 the following year to earn a contract with England’s Nottingham Forest.
2003 – Brian McBride, who had a team-high 17 goals in the inaugural 1996 season, scored 12 times and was signed by Fulham of the English Premier League in January 2004.
2005 – Edson Buddle was the chart topper in 2004 (11 goals) when the Crew won their first Supporters’ Shield and ’05 (nine) when they failed to make the playoffs. A housecleaning sent him to New York prior to the 2006 season.
2006 – Joseph Ngwenya’s five goals made him the co-leader with Jason Garey. In May 2007, Ngwenya was traded to Houston for Alejandro Moreno.
2008 – Moreno was the team leader with seven goals in 2007 and nine the next. He dropped to four scores in 2009 and was grabbed by Philadelphia in the Expansion Draft that November.
2010 – Guillermo Barros Schelotto led the Crew in goals in 2009 (12) and the following season (nine) but the Crew did not re-sign him for this year.
2011 – Without Schelotto, Mendoza scored the most goals by a Crew player since Jeff Cunningham’s 16 in 2002, but he didn’t win over his teammates with his attitude.
Coincidentally, Cunningham’s contract was also not renewed last week.
Brian Bliss, the Crew’s technical director since January 2008, can’t draw any conclusions from all the transactions.
“Some are in demand and go off on their own because of their goal-scoring ability,” he said. “Others, sometimes because goal scorers are fickle and what not, they’re just not a fit.”