Columbus search for depth behind Francis at left back

Robert Warzycha, Shaun Francis

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – While much of the preseason attention in Ohio has justifiably been on the Crew’s successful pursuit of more scoring punch, adding depth at left back continues to be a problem.

When the Crew travel to Charleston, S.C., later this week for the three-match Carolina Challenge Cup, they will have another defensive trialist, head coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com on Monday after practice in Crew Stadium.

“We’re looking in the international market,” he said, while declining to name the player. “I’m not looking for the guy that can play reserves. We’re looking for the guy that can give good competition to [Shaun Francis].”

Jamaican defender Francis has been plagued by injuries in his first two seasons but is the incumbent after Josh Gardner was chosen by Montreal in the Expansion Draft. Hamstring and groin injuries limited Francis to just six games in 2011, and he missed the first six weeks of his rookie season with a sprained ankle.

He knows the Crew are counting on him to be a fulltime player this season and develop his game.

“That’s one of the main reasons why I need to stay healthy,” he said. “There’s not the numbers there at left back. It’s a matter of being healthy for the entire season. Coming into this year I felt a bit newer because I missed out on basically all of last year. It felt new getting back into rhythm. It’s coming around now.”

The Crew looked at left backs Lance Laing and Kasali Casal during their training in Bradenton, Fla., but did not invite them to Columbus for three days of workouts and both are now in Real Salt Lake’s camp, although Warzycha would not rule out Laing returning.

“We still have a Discovery [claim] on Laing,” he said. “He’s gone to Salt Lake, but he’s still our player. We’re bringing somebody else to Charleston, so we’ll see how that works.”

The Crew did not pick a left back in the SuperDraft but added Jamie Finch from the University of Washington in the Supplemental Draft. He is recovering from a knee injury and will join the team in South Carolina.

Warzycha said the ideal left back would have Francis’ speed and the crossing ability of Gardner.

“We have [Francis]," he said. "He’s a typical left back but we need to upgrade that position, obviously."

Flexibility with DP slot

How the search for another left back affects Columbus' roster spots is uncertain.

After adding attacking midfielder/forward Milovan Mirosevic and forward Olman Vargas in January, the Crew attempted to sign another striker as a Designated Player, but technical director Brian Bliss told MLSsoccer.com last week that they were rebuffed by three targets.

As a result, a DP may not be added until the summer transfer window, if at all. The Crew are still considering offering a non-DP contract to Costa Rican forward Jairo Arrieta of Deportivo Saprissa.

Bliss said the club has enough room in the salary cap to sign Arrieta and a Designated Player.