The Crew made a big splash in the offseason with the acquisition of defender Michael Parkhurst and the appointment of Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. The club signed Waylon Francis and Giancarlo Gonzalez to fortify its defense, as well as traded for Hector Jimenez — all moves that have been vital for Columbus in the early going.
Quietly, the club also sent a Fourth Round MLS SuperDraft pick to Chicago for the rights to Daniel Paladini, who was signed by the Crew shortly after. Paladini’s offseason knee injury and resultant surgery have limited his on-field impact thus far, but that hasn't hampered the veteran from being a meaningful presence for the Black & Gold.
At age 29, Paladini plays the same central midfield position as players such as Wil Trapp (21) and Tony Tchani (25). The Californian still has plenty of years to give, but on a young club such as the Crew, he has found a leadership niche in the locker room.
“This is the first team I’ve been on where I’m one of the older guys. I’m just trying to be a voice right now," said Paladini, specifically mentioning Trapp and Tchani as players he has tried to help out.
Recovering from injury and getting back to action was crucial for Paladini, who said that it was difficult to assume that leadership role from the sidelines.
“It’s hard because this is probably the first month and a half that [my teammates] have seen what I can do. It’s hard when the guy sitting out is talking and they’ve never seen you play. You get respect when they see what kind of player you are.”
Paladini made his Crew debut at Houston on May 7, coming on as a second-half substitute. He also played in Columbus’ friendly at Dayton on Tuesday, creating several chances in the final 45 minutes and nearly scoring on one particular play after making a beautiful dribble through the Dutch Lions' defense. With no ill effects from his surgery, Paladini said he was committed to showing Crew coaches he is a reliable option when called upon—and that could come this weekend against his former club, the Chicago Fire.
“It is what it is,” said Paladini on the prospects of facing his previous club of three seasons. “There’s a lot of familiar faces with the guys on the team, but on the other hand, they have a lot of new faces. It’s one of those bittersweet things, but now it’s my job to beat them.”
As a member of Chicago, Paladini has suited up against the Crew a total of six times, notching one assist over that span, but this will be the first time he has experienced the Crew-Fire rivalry — one that he called “one of the [League’s] biggest”— from the Black & Gold standpoint.
“That whole section was Fire fans when I came here with Chicago,” said Paladini, pointing to the visiting supporters' stands above the south goal at Columbus Crew Stadium. “They take buses, they come here, they talk about it all week. It’s a huge rivalry. It’s a good little battle when they come to town.”