In need of defensive revamp, Columbus cut seven players
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The more the Columbus Crew scored, the more goals they allowed. So something had to change, and Wednesday was the start of another makeover for the Columbus defense as two-year stalwart Sebastián Miranda was among seven players who had their options declined for the 2013 season.
Another big name to be let go was William Hesmer, the team leader in most career goalkeeping categories and one of the anchors of the MLS Cup 2008 championship run.
Hesmer missed all of 2012 after undergoing hip surgery in April and was ably replaced by longtime backup Andy Gruenebaum, who was retained along with Homegrown 'keeper Matt Lampson.
Gruenebaum had seven of his eight shutouts in the first 18 games, but once the Crew acquired Designated Player Federico Higuaín – named MLS Newcomer of the Year on Wednesday – and paired him with recent addition Jairo Arrieta, the offense took off while the defense suffered.
The Crew allowed 22 goals in the first 21 games (1.04 average) but yielded 22 in the final 13 (1.69) and missed the playoffs by one point despite a 15-12-7 record. They conceded at least two goals in five of the last eight matches.
WATCH: Crew 2012 highlights
"We know going into next season the last thing we can do is give up two goals a game," manager Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com. "We have to improve and tighten the lines or go a bit further and bring in new players."
The organization decided to go with the latter and Miranda (above) was a casualty. The 32-year-old Chilean was acquired before the 2011 season, started 67 of 68 matches the past two seasons and was a steadying influence for an ever-changing backline. But it was not enough to keep his job.
Others who did not have their options picked up were defenders Rich Balchan and Julius James; midfielders Chris Birchall and Tony Tchani and forward Tommy Heinemann.
Balchan missed the entire season due to sports-hernia surgeries; Heinemann played five minutes in the opener before suffering a season-ending knee injury and James, the starting centerback in 2011, was limited to 12 games in part due to shoulder surgery.
The Crew have just three defenders listed on the roster – Eric Gehrig, captain Chad Marshall and Josh Williams – but have extended offers to defender/midfielder Danny O'Rourke, defender Carlos Mendes as well as forward Emilio Rentería.
Also, midfielder Bernardo Añor will be tested at left back again and rookie midfielder Ethan Finlay was given a look at right back in reserve matches.
Looking ahead, the two biggest gambles for next season could be the oft-injured O'Rourke (six games in 2011; 21 in 2012) and left midfielder Dilly Duka, who has been inconsistent over his first three years.
While Columbus will be looking to shore up the defense, they need to make sure they bring in experienced players, midfielder Milovan Mirosevic told MLSsoccer.com recently.
He noted they were in a good position to qualify for the playoffs following a 4-0-2 stretch in late August and early September, "But after that, we weren’t able to handle that pressure or situation."
The Crew went 3-4-1 the rest of the way, prompting several of the cuts made Wednesday.
Crew roster as of Nov. 28:
Goalkeepers: Andy Gruenebaum, Matt Lampson *
Defenders: Eric Gehrig, Chad Marshall, Josh Williams
Midfielders: Bernardo Añor, Dilly Duka, Ethan Finlay, Eddie Gaven, Kevan George, Milovan Mirosevic
Forwards: Jairo Arrieta, Federico Higuaín, Aaron Horton *, Justin Meram, Aaron Schoenfeld, Ben Speas *
* = Homegrown