The Runner Sports

MLS 20 In 20: Columbus Crew SC

The eastern conference champion Columbus Crew SC return in 2016 without making any huge changes.  Back is every starter and the impressive scouting network of rising manager Gregg Berhalter was at work again, unearthing players from four different countries.  As the new names learn the ropes around Columbus, they will be given time to settle in as none will be expected to contribute heavily from the beginning.

Key Additions:

D Corey Ashe (Last Club: Orlando City)

M Emil Larsen (LC: OB)

F Conor Casey (LC: Philidelphia)

D Amro Tarek (LC: Real Betis)

F Ola Kamara (LC: Austria Wien)

Columbus Crew SC has a well-established rotation of players at every position.  There are also multiple players at every level capable of contributing at an all-star level.  This offseason was spent on building depth and options for the future.  Berhalter has installed his vision in Columbus and at this point, his system is a well-oiled machine.  Rare is a small market team capable of building the kind of depth that Columbus has, yet this is necessary as management has proven they are willing to allow players to be sold on to better situations as evidence of Giancarlo Gonzalez being sold to Italian club Palermo two years ago.  In general, Berhalter follows a formula in his transfers that involves bringing in young players who have a clear path to their international team.  This could lead to, as was the case with Gonzalez, them being sold after a good showing in a World Cup, or other big tournaments.

Again, this offseason was about adding depth and it was done at every level.  Berhalter brought in two strikers, one wide midfield player, a defensive midfielder with the first-round draft pick, a center back, and a player capable of playing either outside back positions.

We’ll start with the forward options that were brought in.  Last year Kei Kamara nearly led the league in scoring, yet toward the end of the season his lack of rotation became evident and Columbus was forced to bring in Jack McInerney as depth.  Out with the ineffective McInerney and in with Casey and Ola Kamara (two Kamara’s could get confusing).  With added depth, Berhalter can afford to give Kei Kamara much more rest throughout the MLS season and have him fresh come playoff time.

At the time Casey was acquired, Crew SC fans had no knowledge of the other Kamara also coming in and there was an outcry at the signing, probably rightfully so.  Casey doesn’t fit the free-flowing attacking style that Columbus employs.  He is a big, unskilled, yet physical striker who is also 34 years old.  Now in hindsight, the Casey signing makes sense as he will serve as the third striker and give Columbus an interesting option should they need to play direct at the end of a match.

Ola Kamara fits more of the Berhalter mold as he is a striker entering the prime of his career and is fairly mobile while still able to hold the ball up in possession.  He should provide the perfect complement to Kei Kamara and allow Columbus to play the same when either are in the lineup.

Larsen is another Scandinavian winger who is capable of playing on either side, yet as the fourth option probably won’t see much playing time.  At 24 years old, Larsen is another fringe prospect in the Danish international scene that could gain quality exposure while in Columbus should playing time open up.

Tarek and Ashe are both players who will serve as reserves this season for Columbus. Ashe is on the tail end of his career, but can play either outside back position and has over 200 MLS appearances under his belt.  He shouldn’t be expected to play all too frequently as Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis are both potential all-stars.  Tarek is, at this point, the fourth center defender option off the bench for Columbus.  With that said, he is a 23-year-old center back who is on the national team radar for both the United States and Egypt.  Tarek has some impressive clubs on his resume with names like Wolfsburg, Freiburg, and Real Betis all employing him on various levels of their clubs.

Key Subtractions:

D Emanuel Pogatetz

M Kristinn Steindorsson

M Kevan George

F Aaron Schoenfeld

D Chris Klute

F Jack McInerney

Berhalter refused to remain content with the reserves at his club and that meant that the existing options had to leave.  In a testament to the coaching staff, many of the players improved during their time with the club and Schoenfeld, in particular, has been playing well with his new club in Isreal.  All of these names Columbus is losing are probably being replaced by better players.  Columbus is a good example of an MLS team creating a solid core of players and then using the rules to slowly expand that core.

 

2016 Storylines: 

Can Columbus Crew SC repeat as Eastern Conference Champions:

It seemed as if all that Gregg Berhalter brought to the table was finally culminating with an MLS Cup last season.  Unfortunately for Crew SC fans, the club fell just short in a sloppy title game and the question going forward is, can they avoid an MLS Cup hangover?  Losing in the final affects every team across sports, but Columbus needs to use it to drive forward.

How will Kamara duo fair at striker:

Now that Kei Kamara has some help at striker, how much rest will he receive? Berhalter has some difficult decisions to make as Ola Kamara clearly has talent.  Last season Kei was forced into playing matches when it would have been a good idea to rest instead.  Another wrinkle going forward is the rumors, that have now dissipated, of Kei’s unhappiness with his contract, understandably so seeing as he was the second-leading scorer in the league.

Will defense improve from last year:

Last season, until the Crew brought in Gaston Sauro, their defense was poor.  They could score with any team in the league, yet they also gave up just as many.  Will a full offseason from Sauro and the continued familiarity allow the defense to catch up with the attack?

Can Columbus Crew SC add trophies to the cabinet:

For all the fun that was generated by the Columbus run last season, they went without a trophy (unless you count the eastern conference title).  With every player returning and as of now a healthy roster, can Columbus maintain the consistency to capture a Supporters’ Shield or use the added depth to make a run at the U.S. Open Cup, or better yet win the MLS Cup in some unfinished business?

 

2016 Reasonable Expectations:

Quite clearly I’m high on the 2016 Columbus Crew.  With the added depth and the ability to keep every key contributor from last season, Columbus should have all three trophies in play this season.  As a small market club, the fact that Columbus was able to keep all their players shouldn’t be overlooked and it should allow them to be very competitive.  The Columbus Crew are my pick to win the Supporters’ Shield in 2016 and make deep runs in both Open and MLS Cups.

 

Mainstream Sport Equivalent:

The Columbus Crew most closely resembles the Pittsburg Pirates of MLB, even down to the colors. Columbus had a long stretch of futility, considering how young the club is that the Pirates also had to deal with. Both are now built around exciting cores of star players and smart management.  Both are in small markets but are among the favorites in their respective sports.

Andrew McCuthen = Federico Higuain

Both are offensive stars who shouldn’t be overlooked for their defensive work as well.  These are the two players who are the faces of their franchises.

Wil Trapp + Ben Swanson = Starling Marte + Gregory Polanco

These four players are highly rated prospects/present day talent that represents the future of the organizations.  Columbus Crew SC players jokingly call Trapp “the franchise”.

Michael Parkhurst = Francisco Liriano

These two players are former highly rated prospects that have turned into dependable veterans for their teams.

John Harbeck

Ohio sports and all things soccer.If you like my writing follow me @JHarbeck5 on twitter

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  • Hell I’d have gone as far as to say this team is the Royals. Bounced in the MLS Cup/World Series, and returning much of the same roster and ready to win some hardware.