With Director of Soccer Operations Asher Mendelsohn now in the office and Assistant Coach Josh Wolff settling into Columbus, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's technical staff has begun evaluating the Crew's needs heading into the brunt of the offseason.
"We're working through a lot of the roster issues for the future, for the preseason and looking ahead to next season and the season after that in terms of roster composition," Berhalter said.
Here is a breakdown of the Crew's current 22-man roster and the needs Berhalter will attempt to address in December and January.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Matt Lampson, Brad Stuver, Dan Withrow
The Black & Gold picked up MLS pool goalkeeper Brad Stuver in the Waiver Draft back on November 25 to add depth between the pipes. As the roster currently stands, Homegrown product Matt Lampson seems to be the frontrunner to be the Crew's first choice 'keeper after starting 13 of the team's final 16 matches in 2013 while Andy Gruenebaum recovered from a shoulder injury. Despite picking up Stuver in the Waiver Draft, the out-of-contract Gruenebaum can still re-sign with the club.
Should Gruenebaum return in 2014, Berhalter believes the competition of four goalkeepers competing for three spots in preseason camp will benefit the Crew in the long run.
"That's the idea: to get three highly qualified goalkeepers that we're confident in," Berhalter said. "I think that's the reason why we're positioning it like this."
DEFENDERS (7): Chad Barson, Waylon Francis, Eric Gehrig, Chad Marshall, Agustin Viana, Tyson Wahl, Matt Wiet, Josh Williams
The Crew re-signed stalwart Josh Williams and added Costa Rican leftback Waylon Francis and Homegrown Player Matt Wiet late last month to join the returning core from 2013. With his pace up the left flank, the Black & Gold should benefit from the addition of Francis.
Entering his 11th season, Chad Marshall will likely anchor the Crew backline in the middle. Williams may be the man to join Marshall internally, but Berhalter will observe the 25-year-old defender at both centerback and rightback before making a decision.
One thing is clear: Berhalter wants Williams to focus on one position once a decision is made.
"Josh is a guy that really wants to improve," Berhalter said. "Obviously, he's versatile and he can play in two positions. We're going to give him a look, probably at both positions, and we'll see where he fits in the best.
I would like to have him focus on one position moving forward to really learn the trade of that position."
Along with Williams, Chad Barson and Eric Gehrig remain options on the right side. Returnees Agustín Viana and Tyson Wahl will compete with Francis at leftback. Wahl and Gehrig each saw time at centerback in 2013 and Wiet will add depth once he recovers from ACL surgery.
The backline is still a work in progress Berhalter said.
"I still think we're in the process of forming our backline, our back group. I don't think it's fully there yet, so we still have to work on that and get to a point where we're comfortable."
MIDFIELDERS (9): Bernardo Anor, Ethan Finlay, Kevan George, Justin Meram, Dominic Oduro, Shawn Sloan, Ben Speas, Tony Tchani, Wil Trapp
Centrally, 2013 U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year Wil Trapp, Tony Tchani and Trinidad & Tobago International Kevan George return to the Crew midfield. Adding depth centrally will be a concern for Berhalter this offseason.
"We've got a good group [in the midfield]," he said. "The one thing we'd like to address is the depth in that group and bringing in a guy who has routine, has experience and can play a role."
After Trapp became a mainstay in the lineup in 2013, Berhalter wants the 20-year-old to become more of a leader in his second season as a pro.
"Wil had a phenomenal end to the season last year, starting from the [Under-20] World Cup moving on to the end of the season," he said of Trapp. "I expect him to build on that, build in terms of his performance and his leadership and how he comes into the team."
On the wings, the Crew returns stalwarts Bernardo Anor and Dominic Oduro, along with Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Shawn Sloan and Ben Speas. Oduro scored a career-high 13 goals in his first season with the Black & Gold and will return in 2014 after re-signing with the team on Monday. Anor had a breakout year on the left side in 2013, scoring four goals after returning from ACL surgery midseason. Finlay, Speas and Meram all showed progress last season, while Sloan did not make an appearance during his rookie campaign.
Oduro is an option on the right side or up top in the attack. His position is Berhalter's choice, he says.
"I want to play up top, but I've had success on the wing," the Ghanaian said. "It's something Gregg and I have talked about. I'm ready, wherever he wants me to play. I'll be ready."
WIth regular starters in Anor and Oduro both returning in 2014, Berhalter is pleased with the depth he has at his disposal on the wings
"It's a position where we have some talented guys in those positions and I'm excited about that group," Berhalter said. "Maybe we add another piece. We'll have some depth and some attacking options."
FORWARDS (3): Federico Higuain, Ryan Finley, Aaron Schoenfeld
Playmaker Federico Higuaín returns with young forwards Ryan Finley and Aaron Schoenfeld as the Crew's only true forwards at this point in the offseason. Adding a proven goalscorer is a priority for Berhalter in the coming months.
"We're looking to add to the attack, obviously," the Sporting Director and Head Coach stated. "There's a lot of names that come forward and you have to do your work on them and try to figure out which player is the best fit for the group. We want to add someone that has experience and someone with a history of goal scoring."
Finding the right player to complement Higuaín's ability in the final third will be crucial in the technical staff's scouting.
"[Higuaín] can give a great pass," Berhalter said of the Designated Player. "He's a guy that can make players better. We need good movement and finishing ability because he will provide you service to get chances. That forward needs to be a good finisher. "
Though the Crew only scored one goal from a cross in 2013, Berhalter said a true target forward isn't necessarily a priority.
"Box play is important, but it doesn't necessarily need to be a target player," he said. "A good finisher, a clinical finisher is important in the box."