Cody Sharrett: They call it the "silly season" for a reason. The Internet has been buzzing with rumors surrounding the Crew lately. Let's start with the rumors swirling around Milovan Mirosevic's alleged desire to stay in Chile. As the Crew gets ready to head to Florida for preseason training, do you have an update on the situation?
Mark McCullers: We've talked with Milo. Obviously, we heard the rumors coming out. Initially, we talked to him and it didn't seem to be the case. He was prepared to come [back to Columbus]. But as it turns out, he really wants to stay in Chile with his family being the primary factor for personal reasons, personal choices. Our players are people, and in extreme situations like this, we do our best to accommodate them.
CS: Milo had high expectations coming to the Crew as a playmaker. Early on, he was slow to truly adapt to MLS and the Crew in that role. He played more of a two-way role once Federico Higuaín joined the fold. Do you feel like the technical staff can acquire a player to replace Mirosevic in that central midfield role ahead of the 2013 season?
MM: First of all, and I think Milo will be the first to echo this, he did not have the season that we expected or that he expected. Our scouting report had him with a tendency to drop [deep into the midfield]. We also had a lot of interchange at the central midfield position. He really wasn't an all-in-all attacking midfielder. As you said, Higuaín is kind of a forward that roams and fills those spaces. Milo was a high-profile international acquisition and we think that we're going to bring in another high-profile international player that will really help our team, as we'll have financial resources at our disposal following Milo's departure.
CS: There were a few trade rumors surrounding Dilly Duka going around at the SuperDraft in Indianapolis. Duka is a quality player at 23-years-old, and could be attractive to other teams around the League. How active is the Crew in fielding offers from other teams for Duka?
MM: We're pretty active. In fact, we're in some trade discussions to the point where we don't really want Dilly to train. We don't want him to risk injury, because the talks are ongoing. I feel like we have a deal that is imminent here to trade Dilly in the very near future. Sometimes players don't fit in with the club culture. I think from Dilly's perspective, he wasn't comfortable here. Sometimes, it's hard to get in a groove or hard to fit in when you're on and off the field like he's been.
CS: Aaron Horton recently posted a picture from Bosnia. What is his status with the Crew?
MM: Aaron had an opportunity to go train and we thought it would be a good experience for him. He could potentially stay and play on a free loan in Bosnia. We thought it would be a great experience for him. It's a chance for him to get some minutes in a different environment and improve his game. We agreed to allow him to go do that. We're going to watch his progress closely and we think it will be a good experience for him.
CS: You mentioned the club culture earlier. The team has retained its core of Jairo Arrieta, Federico Higuaín, Andy Gruenebaum, Eddie Gaven, Chad Marshall, Josh Williams and Danny O'Rourke. How do those guys set an example of the club culture the Crew portrays?
MM: That's something that gets passed down from guys like Chad Marshall and Eddie Gaven and Danny O'Rourke in leadership roles. They pass on things they learned from guys like Frankie Hejduk, Duncan Oughton, Gino Padula and [Guillermo Barros] Schelotto, those sort of guys. It's really about who you are as a team and who you want to be. It's part of the overall culture of the club both on and off the field. We're America's Hardest Working Team. We want guys who will come with their lunch bucket every single day to training and who are going to give it everything they've got. We're in it to win a championship. Those guys are about instilling that sort of pride into the new guys. It's an important role for them and they take it very seriously.
CS: One of the guys that helped the Black & Gold win a championship in 2008 is Robbie Rogers. Rogers and Leeds United have agreed to part ways. Should he return to MLS, the Crew holds the right to sign him. What does Rogers' potential return to MLS mean for the club?
MM: We look at it as an asset for us. Honestly, I don't see Robbie joining our roster. I'll never say never, because that could be a potential situation. We would be interested in and have had some discussions about trading the rights to Robbie. It's something we would consider.
CS: There have been many roster moves this offseason after not making the playoffs for the first time since 2008. How do these moves get the Crew back to the top of the East in 2013?
MM: We've got to improve our defense. I think it's extremely straightforward. When I say that, I don't mean necessarily just our backline. Our defensive position in central midfield, all of it contributed to some soft goals in my opinion and some untimely goals. It just wasn't good enough. I don't think it was good enough from the beginning of the season. I think that Andy Gruenebaum helped our defensive statistics substantially in the early part of the year. I'm going to be honest, I was not happy with our defensive effort and we're not going to sit back and maintain the status quo. We have special players on the offensive side of the ball now, and I did not want to stand pat and hope we were better with the personnel we had in place last year. I felt like we were aggressive in addressing some situations that we felt were unlikely to improve and I think that's going to make us a better team, a better defensive team and put us in position to win a championship.
CS: With the season opener six weeks away, what moves do you foresee happening between now and then to fill out the roster?
MM: There is going to be at least one international signing, I think there is going to be a trade and I think there are going to be players in camp who are fighting hard to make our roster. Really, it's a little bit later than we probably would have hoped, but it's exactly where we want to be in terms of our personnel falling into place. We still have work to do. Things happen in the international market. We've got to deal with that and understand it. We've got to have backup plans, but I think we're going to have a substantial piece of the puzzle here in the next week and a couple more thereafter.
CS: Are there any other words you would like to relay to Crew fans ahead of the 2013 season?
MM: I'm excited about this season. I'm excited about the personnel we have. I've heard from numerous sources that Chad Marshall and Danny O'Rourke in particular have been working extremely hard this offseason. I think they feel like they have something to prove. Danny's got a new contract. From what I'm hearing about the work ethic of our players in the offseason, I'm excited about the season. We have the chance to be a very special team.