The Crew announced it has exercised options on 10 players while declining options on seven others on Wednesday afternoon. The club extends the services of goalkeepers Andy Gruenebaum and Matt Lampson; defenders Eric Gehrig and Josh Williams, midfielders Bernardo Anor, Dilly Duka, Ethan Finlay and Kevan George; and forwards Justin Meram and Aaron Schoenfeld.
Players whose options were not exercised include goalkeeper William Hesmer; defenders Rich Balchan, Julius James and Sebastian Miranda; midfielders Chris Birchall and Tony Tchani; and forward Tommy Heinemann. The team can still negotiate with all the aforementioned players.
Danny O'Rourke, Carlos Mendes and Emilio Rentería are out of contract, and the Crew expects to extend offers to all three players.
Just after the announcement, Crew Technical Director Brian Bliss and Head Coach Robert Warzycha broke down their decisions.
It's never easy for Bliss and Warzycha to make roster cuts. But due to Major League Soccer's structure and salary cap restrictions, roster attrition is a necessity every offseason. Though the decisions are often difficult to make, the future success of the club is always top priority.
"This is a very difficult time of year for the club, coaches and technical staff," Warzycha explained. "Obviously, we have to make the decisions and the only idea behind it is what can make this club better and more successful. That's why we have to sometimes part ways with some players, because we need to improve and need help in different areas."
Added Bliss, "It's a casualty of how the League is set-up and structured. If you don't gain allocation money over time and you continue to win and make the playoffs and don't actually make it to the [MLS Cup] Final, you can't maintain the resources that you had the previous year."
Bliss, Warzycha, assistant coaches and club President and General Manager Mark McCullers met several times since the Crew's season ended on October 28 to ensure all decisions being made were the right ones.
"We had to make some tough decisions," Bliss elaborated. "[The Crew technical staff] had five, six, seven meetings over a two-week period to reach decisions on a lot of these players. It's never easy to inform the players. However, it gives the club some flexibility moving forward in terms of some things we want to do with the roster."
FLEXIBILITY MOVING FORWARD
With seven players' options not picked-up, the Crew Front Office has the resources to enhance the team moving into 2013. Improving a defense that allowed 17 goals in the final two months of the season is the focus this offseason.
"It's no mystery that we had some issues in the back," Bliss explained. "Looking at it from afar, statistics will show you that as well. We want to allocate some resources that we've created to address some of those areas in the backline. It could be anywhere across the backline because it's not one particular guy or any particular spot, it's just overall strengthening in that area."
"It's not a secret that we gave up some goals in the end of the season," Warzycha added. "In that area, we have to be better."
Pleased with the offensive production of midseason additions Federico Higuaín and Jairo Arrieta, Warzycha hopes the team can improve in every aspect next season.
"We definitely improved in front with Higuaín and Arrieta, so we're not looking for much improvement there," the Head Coach said. "Obviously, we would love to add another forward who can also score goals. Overall, all year round, we are looking for better players that can improve our game."
GRUENEBAUM THE MAN IN 2013
By exercising its option on 2012's MLS leader in saves, Andy Gruenebaum, the Crew reaffirmed its position that Gruenebaum is the goalkeeper of the future.
"Being in the club for so many years and being back-up to several goalkeepers, Andy actually got his chance to prove to everybody that he is a very good goalkeeper," Warzycha said of the 29-year-old 'keeper. "He took his chance with both hands. He was our Defensive Player of the Year and MVP. I'm sure he's going to continue to progress and play even better next year."
On the other side of the coin, the Black & Gold part ways with William Hesmer. Hesmer is the club's all-time leader in shutouts and wins at the position. Additionally, the backstop anchored the Crew to two Supporters' Shields and the 2008 MLS Cup.
"[Hesmer] is the all-time statistical leader in goalkeeping for the club," Bliss explained. "That's never easy to part with. Will's been a great person as well as a great player. I've had the pleasure of working with him in Kansas City and I knew his qualities then. I knew that when I came here, and he's been first class every step of the way."
"He's a good pro, he's going to find his way. He's a quality goalkeeper and I think there are a lot of teams that will be interested in his services. He's not an easy one to part with, but it allows Andy to grow and gives Will a new lease on life as well."
STICKING TO THE PLAN
Ultimately the Crew's offseason player personnel decisions are driven by a commitment to building upon a core roster that earned 52 points in 2012 - the second-best mark in franchise history. While that total didn't get the Black & Gold into the MLS postseason, the Crew brass knows it has the pieces in place for future success.
"Obviously we're all disappointed not to get into the playoffs this year," said Warzycha. "But if you look at the players we have here - Higuaín, Arrieta, Gruenebaum, Gaven and other guys on the team - we're excited about what we can do next season."
With an average roster age of 24, the Crew has one of the youngest lineups in MLS, composed of an energetic core of key contributors. Josh Williams (24) became one of the club's most reliable players in 2012, while rookies like Ethan Finlay (22) and Ben Speas (21) made their case for increased minutes next season. Add these players to the one-two punch of Higuaín and Arrieta up front, combined with veterans like Gaven and Gruenebaum coming off of career years, and the bigger picture is slowly coming into focus.
"Today we made some tough decisions," concluded Bliss. "We'll have to make a few more before it's all said and done, but things are coming together."