2013 Columbus Preview: Shades of 2008 in Crew-ville?
2012 record: 15-12-7 (52 points); 44 GF / 44 GA (0 GD)
Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part one of two previewing Columbus' 2013 season. You can find Part 2 here.
Setting the Scene
The Columbus Crew have been in a perpetual makeover mode as head coach Robert Warzycha tries to find the right blend of talent, depth and youth to match the championship success of his predecessor Sigi Schmid in 2008.
Finally, Warzycha might have the players to make a serious run at more hardware starting with the 2012 in-season signings of forwards Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín.
Their arrivals, while dramatic and uplifting to a franchise that had to deal with the death of rookie midfielder Kirk Urso on Aug. 5, weren't enough to offset a porous defense down the stretch as the Crew missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Of course, they won the MLS Cup the next season and Warzycha hopes that by bringing in defensive-oriented South Americans Gláuber, Matías Sánchez and Agustin Viana plus forward/midfielder Dominic Oduro from Chicago that history will repeat.
In and Out
IN: M Wil Trapp (12/13/12 - Homegrown); D Tyson Wahl (1/3/13 - free); D Chad Barso; (1/10/13 - Homegrown); F Ryan Finley (1/17/13 - SuperDraft); D Gláuber (1/22/13 - Discovery); D/M Agustín Viana (1/28/13 - Discovery); F/M Dominic Oduro (2/4/13 - trade from Chicago); M Matías Sánchez (2/8/13 - Discovery); D Drew Beckie (2/15/13 - SuperDraft)
OUT: M Cole Grossman (11/19/12 - option declined): F Olman Vargas (11/19/12 - option declined); D Nemanja Vukovic (11/19/12 - option declined); D Rich Balchan (11/28/12 - option declined); D Julius James (11/28/12 - option declined); D Sebastián Miranda (11/28/12 - option declined); M Chris Birchall (11/28/12 - option declined); F Tommy Heinemann (11/28/12 - option declined); GK William Hesmer (11/28/12 - option declined); D Carlos Mendes (12/11/12 - signed with NY Cosmos); M Dilly Duka (2/4/13 - trade to Chicago)
Star Attraction: Federico Higuaín
The Argentine was an instant hit, earning an assist in his first match at Houston on Aug. 19 before collecting three goals and five assists in the next four matches.
He finished with five goals and seven assists in 13 games (11 starts) despite a foot injury in September that resulted in one assist over a five-game stretch while the Crew was still contending for a postseason spot.
For his efforts, he was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year. But more importantly for the Crew, he brought a swagger not seen since the days of fellow Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Unsung Hero: Eddie Gaven
Gaven, 26, made his 10th season, seventh in Columbus, his most productive by scoring a career-high nine goals and adding two assists.
He had a dramatic winner in the 95th minute for the 10-man Crew on Aug. 29 and a 91st-minute equalizer at Sporting Kansas City on Oct. 7.
Mr. Reliable manned the right or left side of the midfield with equal aplomb and significantly, in a season in which the Crew was besieged by injuries, Gaven was the only player to start all 34 games, sitting just 70 minutes despite ranking 10th in MLS with 61 fouls suffered.
Ready for Primetime: Jairo Arrieta
How can a player who had nine goals and four assists in 18 games be overlooked? When you're partnering with Higuaín, it's easy to forget how good the Costa Rican international is.
Although he's 5-foot-9 and 150 pound wet, Arrieta's grit and determination to take on bigger defenders quickly won his admiration from Columbus fans upon his debut July 14.
The first of his three-multi goals two weeks later at SKC earned him MLS Player of the Week honors. Imagine what Arrieta could do if he doesn't lead the league in being offside, as he did in 2012 with 41.
Storylines to Watch
1. The health of centerback Chad Marshall: The captain should be entering his prime at age 28 but a history of concussions causes concern every time he takes a knock to the head. He missed eight games in 2012 due to concussion symptoms and two for a bum right ankle that he had postseason surgery on.
2. Will the new international contingent be a factor?: The Crew had high hopes for Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas heading into the 2012 season, but both disappointed and are gone.
Better results are expected from Gláuber, Sánchez and Viana.
3. Developing the youth: The Crew signed highly regarded Homegrown players defender Chad Barson and midfielder Wil Trapp. Along with 2012 Homegrown signee midfielder Ben Speas and last season's first pick, midfielder Ethan Finlay, they represent the future although getting meaningful minutes will not be easy.
What He Said
"Status quo was not good enough. All the changes are designed to make us a deeper and stronger team and one that will be more competitive than we were [in 2012]."
– Crew president/general manager Mark McCullers
If Everything Goes Right
McCullers surprised, maybe irritated, some people by predicting the Crew could win the Eastern Conference and be a threat for the MLS Cup if all their potential offseason targets were signed. They were and now it's up to the players to make his dream a reality.
It certainly appears like Columbus can field their strongest team since winning the championship in 2008. If Higuaín and company can put up lofty offensive numbers and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum comes up big again, there's every reason to think the Crew will be in the thick of the conference race.