With the pending transfer of Giancarlo Gonzalez to Palermo, the Crew needs to replace one of the League's elite defenders and a player who shined on soccer's biggest stage at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. It's an intimidating task, to be sure, but one that the Black & Gold are prepared to do.
Not to diminish the performance of Gonzalez whatsoever, but four of the Crew's five clean sheets kept this season have come without the Costa Rican in the lineup. Also, in eight matches without Gonzalez, the Crew has conceded just eight goals – with seven of those goals coming in two matches. Removing the outliers reveals that the Black & Gold have played very well defensively even without Gonzalez.
Those facts do not suggest that the club is better off without "Pipo," but rather that the team's depth is more than capable of stepping in. That's something that Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter echoed on Monday.
"We believe in this group. We believe in the guys we have. Even though we're losing a guy, we think we have a strong group behind him. That's not to say that we're not going to add someone for depth, but we're comfortable with what the guys have been able to do. You look at [Tyson Wahl], you look at [Eric] Gehrig, Josh Williams, Michael [Parkhurst], Chad [Barson] – we feel like we have pretty good depth in the backline."
The first name that comes to mind is Wahl, a League veteran who started for Gonzalez against Houston and contributed heavily toward the club's team sheet, earning internal Man of the Match honors from Berhalter and the team.
"I thought it was a pretty strong game for me," said the veteran defender. "It definitely helps when the team as a whole plays that well ... Scoring relieves a lot of pressure back there. Our possession play really allowed me personally and our defensive group to save enough energy to focus on defensive plays and execute them well enough. I think we did that."
Wahl brings experience to a club that overall is among the youngest in the League. A veteran of 104 MLS starts, the Newport Beach native thinks his versatility and ability to play on short order is valuable to the Black & Gold.
"I can kind of be slotted in and hopefully just keep pace with the rest of the guys, really," said Wahl. "I have been in and out of the lineup – I haven't been in it as much as I'd like to – but I think with my experience, I feel confident that I can be thrown into the lineup the day before a game having not played in a couple of weeks, keep pace with the group and do well."
"Tyson has the experience and he's been the same guy all year, whether he's been playing or not playing," added Berhalter. "He's been even-keeled and supportive of the group. When a guy is like that, you want nothing more than for him to get an opportunity and perform. He did that. He did it on short notice. We're proud of him and really proud of his performance."
Wahl figures to be the replacement for Gonzalez in the short-term, a task that he is more than capable of undertaking, as three of the club's five clean sheets have come in his six starts. As for the above statistic that the Crew has kept four clean sheets even without Pipo? Wahl thinks his side can continue to improve in that facet no matter who takes to the pitch.
"It says a lot. It's something that we can even do better with. I think we're a confident group. I think we have some guys that you might write as 'backups' going into the season that have shown very well. Gehrig's had a tremendous season. Barson has done extremely well too. I think we do have a lot of solid players back there that can step in and play games."