Team: Columbus Crew
Coach: Robert Warzycha
Last Season: 13-13-8, 4th East, 9th Overall
Twitter Hashtag: #Crew96
There were a lot of questions going into last season about the type of club the Columbus Crew would be, with some new additions as well as the release of Guillermo Barros Schelotto. But Robert Warzycha crafted the new players he drafted and brought in.
While it looked ominous at first with a Quarterfinal exit to runners-up Real Salt Lake in the CONCACAF Champions League, it was basically a “see as you go” season. Even with that rough start, the year ended very well for the Crew, grabbing a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Coaching Staff: Once again Robert Warzycha will be in charge of this side, the side he joined as a player at their inception in 1996. He seems to have a pulse on how to get his young players to perform and do well. But we shall see what he will do with an improved Eastern Conference. Warzycha will have a challenge against rivals Toronto FC as they look to build off their successful CONCACAF Champions League campaign, and threaten to knock out his Crew side from a playoff spot.
Key Roster Additions: Long tenured MetroStars/Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes was picked up by the Crew to help out with a young back line. The former University of South Florida Bulls defender Aubrey Perry will try to crack into the roster for a possible bench spot. They also brought in some fire power as Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas of Club Sport Herediano will bring some experience. Don’t forget Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic, who will bolster the attack.
Key Roster Subtractions: Of course the only real subtraction from this team is Robbie Rogers, who decided to move on and try his luck in Europe. Rogers has seen an increased potential to make the US Men’s National Team roster, so plying his trade across the Atlantic should sit well with Jurgen Klinsmann.
Projected Starters: Will Hesmer, who helped get this club their first MLS Cup back in 2008, will be in goal once again to play lights out for Warzycha’s side. Mainstay defender Chad Marshall had a solid 2011 and will try to continue that into 2012. Mendes should bring more experience to the backline to go along with Marshall and Rich Balchan, who had a good rookie campaign and surprised some by converting a few goals. Julius James might fill in the final spot on the back line.
In the midfield, after a year of bouncing around, the young Tony Tchani should have a chance to pull himself together and show the excellent box-to-box qualities that led the New York Red Bulls to draft him in 2010. Creating some of the chances for the Crew will be Eddie Gaven, along with Mirosevic and Emmanuel Ekpo, who looked solid last season.
Up top for the Crew I expect Emilio Renteria to continue giving fits to opposing defenders. He should team up with OIman Vargas, and together could be a dangerous tandem.
Player to watch: I would have to say it’s Tony Tchani. We saw what he could do in 2010 for the Red Bulls, but he was dealt away early in 2011 to Toronto for Dwayne DeRosario. Tchani failed at fitting in to Aron Winter’s Dutch system. Now that he’s been dealt to Columbus, maybe a full year with Warczyha will rekindle the comparisons to Shalrie Joseph.
Best Case Scenario: This side can improve, and with some of the additions they have made, it may earn them a deep playoff run. They could even surprise and get to the MLS Cup championship Final.
Worst Case Scenario: An improved Eastern Conference can knock them out early of a possible playoff spot, as Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC have strengthened their sides. The Red Bulls also made a major draft day splash bringing in Kenny Cooper to pair with Thierry Henry, while DC United has begun to look dangerous with Dwayne DeRosario in the midfield.
Prediction: Right now you have to say that the Crew is going to be in the middle of the pack. They will have to earn their playoff spot, depending on how quickly this team can get out of the gate. If they can sneak into that final spot in the East, then once again it could be like last season. But something tells me they could finish third, which would be an upset versus sides expecting to finish more strongly.