After a ninth-place finish in the Eastern Conference last year, the Columbus Crew were clearly in need of some roster movement this off-season.
Surprisingly, the first change was trading away center back captain Michael Parkhurst. Whats worse? Soon after that trade, news became official that their experienced center back, Gaston Sauro, would miss all of 2017 for knee surgeries. More surprises include declining the option to re-sign starting goalkeeper Steve Clark, and extending the contract of poor-performing DP Federico Higuain.
Since those concerning roster updates in December, though, the new starting 11 has started to take shape. It remains unknown just how quickly the team will come together in 2017, but the newfound strength of several Eastern Conference opponents will surely worry Crew supporters.
Here is a closer look at what’s been done and what’s left to be done heading into the new year:
Jonathan Mensah, Alex Crognale, Jukka Raitala, Josh Williams
Michael Parkhurst, Gaston Sauro (will miss 2017 due to injury), Mohammed Saeid, Tyson Wahl, Conor Casey, Steve Clark, Matt Pacifici, Corey Ashe, Cedrick Mabwati, Chad Barson
1st Round: No. 5 overall, No. 9 overall (Columbus will receive New England’s highest pick determined 24 prior to the SuperDraft as part of the Kei Kamara trade)
3rd Round: No. 49 overall
4th Round: No. 71 overall
Gregg Berhalter and his staff had their work cut out for them to rebuild the back line. They were able to handle the task quickly, though, with the addition of two internationals, a Homegrown signing and an MLS veteran.
Depth is desparately needed on the wings to provide cover for Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay. The other obvious spot in need of depth is goalkeeper. At this point, it seems that Berhalter is putting his trust in young goalie Zack Steffen, but the only other keeper on the roster is currently Brad Stuver.
The Crew are currently heavily linked with former U.S. youth national team midfielder Junior Flores, a creative central midfielder who would be in line to compete for playing time as the team’s playmaker.
Its hard to see any of last season’s Eastern Conference playoff teams dropping off in quality next year, and in fact the other clubs at the bottom of the table have been bolstering their squad this winter. As a result, there is no easy path back to MLS Cup for the Crew in 2017.
This could prove to be the second year in a rebuilding process for Berhalter’s team, as young players and MLS newcomers begin to fully integrate into the existing squad.
A run at the post-season is not out of the question, though. Ola Kamara proved how dynamic he could be in the second half of last year, and there’s no reason he can’t improve upon that in his second season. If Higuain can return to form, or Flores comes in and flourishes, the Crew could replicate the attacking success they achieved in 2015.