Crew staff seek improvement from midfield in 2012

OBETZ, Ohio – Robbie Rogers set a career high with seven assists. Eddie Gaven rebounded from a poor season to score two more goals than in 2010 and Emmanuel Ekpo went from zero points a year ago to four.

While it might appear there was progress in the midfield – at least from an offensive standpoint – it was only enough to barely get a passing grade from Columbus Crew technical director Brian Bliss.

“I’d give them a C- to D+,” he told MLSsoccer.com this week.

Gaven had five goals and an assist in 2011; Ekpo contributed a goal and two assists and Rogers scored twice to equal his output of the previous two seasons.

“There’s got to be more production there, no doubt,” Bliss said. “For as many years as they’ve been in the league and for the amount of money – not that they’re getting rich, they’re getting paid – there’s got to be a better division of statistics among those three guys, and that’s going back to 2010 as well.”

Bliss admitted the aforementioned midfielders are key to the Crew, but also believes that could contribute more going forward and defensively.

“Those were our core guys,” Bliss added. “[Kevin] Burns played some significant minutes, too. He’s a core guy. He’s been around for four years. Maybe you expect a little more out of that whole area of the field.”

Of course, there were more midfielders involved than the four mentioned by Bliss and that was part of the problem.  Finding someone to tandem with Ekpo in the center was a long and frustrating venture with six players making starts at the defensive midfield position due to injuries and loss of form.

“We tried different combinations throughout the year,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “At times they looked good but overall nothing comes clear.”

Warzycha hopes the injuries that limited Danny O’Rourke to six games and Tony Tchani to just one – the playoff loss to Colorado – after being acquired from Toronto FC in July, will solve the problem in 2012.

“Danny and Ekpo in the middle at New England [on Oct. 15] was very good,” Warzycha said. “Too bad we had only one game with them playing at the same time.”

A bright spot at the end of the season was second-year midfielder Dilly Duka, who scored in the final two regular season games and gives the front office hope that he can be a fulltime starter next year. Especially considering Burns, Ekpo, Gaven and Rogers will be out of contract.

Gaven will sign a new deal soon but it’s not as certain for the other three. That leaves an opening for Warzycha and Bliss to pursue a playmaker that can get more out of the Crews strikers, someone who can perhaps thread inviting balls through and be a threat on set pieces.

“We have to have somebody over there that if I’m selecting a team, he comes to mind first,” Warzycha said. “It’s going to be difficult to bring the perfect guy. We already are scouting and contacting the agents. We have a number of names. I hope we choose the right one.”