The MLS transfer window has opened, and while Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter is looking to make a splash, his side was bolstered by two of the strongest additions of all by default: the return of Costa Rica FIFA World Cup players Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis.
The Ticos completed a dream run to the Quarterfinals of the tournament, something that made both Crew defenders incredibly proud.
"It was great," said Gonzalez. "For me, I think my accomplishments and my goals were set, and they were made by coming here, getting in form, being able to play in the World Cup and do a great job. That's what happened."
"I was excited. We were all excited," added Francis. "We're just happy that, as a country, we got as far as we did. It was important to prove to all the naysayers that we are a football country and we can compete."
Gonzalez played every minute of every match for Costa Rica and was lauded for his performance, making several all-tournament Best XI lists, including those by ESPN and the BBC, as well as Bloomberg Sports' Power 25. He credited the Ticos' coaching staff for their excellent play.
"For us, it was part of the technical staff that did such a great job. It was a two-year span where we had similar faces on the team. Even when the new guys came in, there was a plan set and so much tactical stuff that went into it that we all believed. That's why I think we did well," said the centerback.
Francis, meanwhile, did not see any playing time as the youngest defender called up by coach Jorge Luis Pinto. Despite that, the experience was a "dream come true" for the leftback.
"I made the roster and I was one of the ones to make it late. I understood that," said Francis. "I knew that I had to work my butt off. It's not bittersweet. At the end of the day, I made a World Cup roster. At my young age, I have a lot to look forward to and [I have to] keep on working so that future continues."
The duo rejoined the Crew after a celebration in Costa Rica, something that Gonzalez called "overwhelming."
"We got to Costa Rica and there were fans and media ... The kind of love and appreciation we had was great. We've never reached that kind of stage in a World Cup. It was phenomenal."
Helping make the experience memorable for both was the outpouring of support that they felt on social media from fans here in Columbus. Both Gonzalez and Francis are active on Twitter and said that the messages they got from not only Costa Rica fans but also fans of the Crew were much appreciated.
"To go on social media like Twitter and Facebook and have that support from people from Ohio and fans of the Crew, it's great," said Gonzalez. "It gives us as players motivation and appreciation for what we do and makes us thankful that we're here."
"It was crazy for me," added Francis. "I had a few tweets here and there. It's great to feel the love and support from your club's fans. One thing that we're looking forward to is coming back and showing the fans that we're here for this club and we're here to play."
Now, the challenge for both Gonzalez and Francis is to take the momentum from playing on the world stage and translate it to the Crew. Gonzalez believes the mindset of the Ticos can help he and Francis do just that.
"One thing for me that's very important is that we believed in teamwork," said Gonzalez. "We believed in working hard, having big dreams and trying to fight for those dreams. Going into the World Cup, no one thought that we were going to do what we did. It was very important for all of us as a group to believe, dream and try to work toward those dreams. That's what we can bring here to the Crew as well: working hard together as a group and having goals to meet."