COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Crew enter Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft in better position than last year in more ways than one.
Not only have they moved up two spots to the 10th overall pick, but there are fewer voids to fill on the 30-man roster. With 25 players under contract, the team is ahead of the pace of January 2011, when only 17 players were signed – although there were extenuating circumstances back then.
The first was a major purge: Nine players, including standouts such as Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Frankie Hejduk, bid farewell to the club, leaving a skeleton roster that had only begun to be reshaped by the SuperDraft.
Furthermore, the league expanded the roster from 24 players to 30 for the 2011 season because of the reformation of the Reserve League.
But there was no such extreme makeover heading into 2012, and the Crew will be looking for depth at several positions as opposed to possible starters.
In addition to their first pick, the Crew also have selections at 26 and 29 in the two-round, 38-player draft being held in Kansas City.
“Left back, right midfield and central midfield are probably areas we’re looking to shore up in terms of the draft,” technical director Brian Bliss said. “We’re looking for players to push and challenge the guys we have, and hopefully one of those guys will break through as a starter at some point.”
Coach Robert Warzycha said he, Bliss and president and general manager Mark McCullers compiled a list of priorities after the MLS Combine, but getting a coveted player is always tricky.
“We have pretty good idea who we want,” Warzycha said. “When you put the names on the paper, you have an idea who the first few picks are going to be. But so many things can change. By the seventh pick, we have to see if there’s two or three guys still available that we want.”
Warzycha said there are no plans to trade their first pick, but then again they didn’t go into last year’s draft expecting to trade forward Steven Lenhart to San Jose for the 15th choice.
“We can get a good player with the No. 10 pick,” Warzycha said. “With the 26th and 29th pick, we’re looking for somebody who can be a backup.”
The Crew used the San Jose deal to select Michigan forward Justin Meram after drafting Indiana defender Rich Balchan three spots earlier. Balchan started 18 games in an injury-plagued season and had the tying goal at New York off an assist from Meram, one of two tallies he had in 17 games (four starts).
Midfielders Cole Grossman (28th pick) and Bernardo Anor (48th) also saw playing time last season.
In 2010, midfielder Dilly Duka and defender Shaun Francis were the only two of five draftees to make the roster.
The Crew will reach the 30-player limit through next week’s four-round Supplemental Draft and possible international signings.