The Columbus Crew were certainly a surprise team last season. After cutting ties with a number of veterans and going with a roster that looked lacking on almost every part of the pitch, head coach Robert Warzycha coaxed a great season out of a sometimes combustible team. Robbie Rogers earned his way onto the U.S. men’s national team with superior MLS play while Dilly Duka is now an up-and-coming talent. The team was in the playoff hunt from April on and by playing stout defense combined with timely goal scoring, this was a team that played tough all year. They even treated the fans to a historic MLS moment when Jeff Cunningham broke the record for most MLS goals in a career.
Going into this offseason, this again looks like a rebuilding effort. But can the team meet or exceed the levels they achieved last season? Let’s continue the “three questions” series with the Columbus Crew:
(Two notes. First, we continue the series via the 2012 Superdraft selection order. Columbus, despite a better record than New York, drafts tenth, followed by FC Dallas then Toronto. The Reds have New York’s pick from the Dwayne De Rosario trade, but we’ll do the Red Bulls Three Questions after Dallas. Second, the series will take a short break tomorrow and Sunday with a “12 Predictions for 2012″ post. We’ll pick up with Dallas on Monday.)
1. What (or with whom) is the deal with Rogers and Ekpo?
In baseball, going one for three is a good day. In MLS contract negotiations, it is a miserable failure. The Crew offered a long-term deal to team leader Chad Marshall and he signed on the 19th. This was a critical move to lock up one of MLS’s best defenders and one of the team’s two best players. However, their contract offers to Emmanuel Ekpo and Robbie Rogers have yet to be accepted. As of now, Rogers has been linked with English Championship side Leeds United but has not signed a deal. Ekpo was left on the Crew’s unprotected list in the expansion draft and has allegedly been working on a loan deal to a European club.
Both of these players are critical components to this team, Rogers even more so than Ekpo. Depending on how their fates come down will dictate how this team’s offseason goes. Losing Ekpo but not Rogers would be a minor victory, but losing both could be devastating.
As in no “o”. The Crew lost Andres Mendoza to the Mexican league and Jeff Cunningham was let go. Mendoza was a locker room problem (see his hogging of penalty kicks) and the game has passed Cunningham by (his form was painful at times last season) but they both at least provided credible goal threats, Mendoza especially. Combined with the possible departures of Rogers and Ekpo, this team has a gaping hole at the top. Emilio Renteria returns but the only other forwards under contract with this team are either unproven no names (Meram, Horton) or depth players (Heinemann). The Crew have to invest in replacements up top or risk having to over-rely on their defense. Which leads me to…..
3. Is there a plan in the front office?
For the second winter, the Crew are in rebuilding mode, and the fans are unhappy. After their impressive run in 2008 and 2009, there was no doubt this team could not be kept together. But looking at this squad, what’s the plan? Last season Warzycha was firmly on the hot seat but earned his way off. Is he the Crew’s coach no matter what? What if they get off to a slow start? Also, the team has not publicly given a strategy for building in 2012. They added depth on defense by acquiring Carlos Mendes but they look totally unprepared to lose their big-named players. They need to give some indications as to whether they are rebuilding, retooling, or some other strategy.