COLUMBUS, Ohio – Transfer-deadline day was a roller-coaster ride for fans of the Columbus Crew.
After a full day of swirling rumors, head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter confirmed many fans’ fears at Crew training on Thursday: US national team midfielder Mix Diskerud will not become a Columbus Crew player this year.
“We went after it,” Berhalter told reporters. “We went after it aggressively, and we thought, ‘This is something that’s going to help the team, it’s going to help the league.’ Because, quite honestly, how many guys are coming the other way entering the prime of their career? We thought this was a great step for us, and we were there. We were right there.”
When owner-operator Anthony Precourt tweeted, “Really wanted Mix in Columbus. We gave it everything…” at 10:40 pm Wednesday, it was clear that the deal had fizzled. Berhalter said that he and Precourt had been suitors of Diskerud’s for quite a while and echoed his owner’s disappointment the next day.
“We started tracking him before the World Cup, and we’ve been working on it for a long time,” he said. “It’s disappointing, but we really got to a point where this was going, this thing was happening. So you take a step back, you look at what could have been better, how you could have finished a deal. But in the end, the player has to be totally committed to it, and it’s got to be something that’s right. Maybe for some reason it wasn’t.”
The reason for talks breaking down is still largely unknown. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl published an article Wednesday afternoon claiming that Diskerud’s father was not happy with the proposed deal and pulled out at the last minute. But Berhalter put those rumors to rest.
“I’d like to directly address the reports that we had a handshake deal and he reneged on it,” Berhalter said. “That didn’t happen. I think that’s an important step. The whole time, they were very open and direct in their communication, and we had great dialogue.“
Diskerud himself took to the online comment boards on Big Soccer.com to also dispel the rumor that his father interfered with the deal just before it was completed. MLSsoccer.com American Exports contributor Greg Setlzer confirmed that the account does, in fact, belong to Diskerud, based on numerous conversations between the two about Diskerud's affinity for interacting with fans on public forums.
"I have had a lawyer representing me and having had him as the one who has kept communication between Gregg, MLS, Rosenborg, and all others I have had obligations to in this matter," DIskerud wrote. "He has assured me that he has not at all done any of what Grant Wahl accuses my father of. My father has not been negotiating between Rosenborg and Columbus/MLS."
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Then why did talks fail? Berhalter is not sure.
“I can’t answer for their side,” he said. “What I would say is that we learned of extreme interest, we communicated with them many times, great talks, great communication. They’re very nice people, they’re very up-front, they’re very direct. My conversations with both Mix and his dad were nothing but a pleasure.
"In the end, I can’t say why it didn’t go through. I know that we were in a position to present an offer that probably 98 percent of the players in the league would take.”
Diskerud shot down any idea that he wouldn't come to Columbus to continue his career.
"What I can tell everybody – is that the best day in my life I had in Ohio," he wrote on Big Soccer.com. "The fans when we finally qualified for the World Cup were the best fans I have ever played for. I guess a lot of them were from Ohio. They lifted us immensely. You have no idea what that means and meant.
"The supporters of Columbus Crew might not be the biggest by shire [sic] numbers – but please go check what they write, and how they critique. Are they not the most cunning of all the MLS supporters – as we speak?"
In Berhalter’s first summer transfer window, the Crew boss said he has learned two important lessons from the past few days.
“The first thing was the commitment level from our owner to go after this,” he said. “[Precourt] didn’t hesitate at all, and I mean not at all. We were right in there and always willing to go the extra step to get this deal done. The second thing I realized is that these deals aren’t done until the paper is signed. There’s a lot more to it, and the detail and communication needs to be exactly there to get these done. They’re hard to get done sometimes. You look back, and it is what it is.”
While talks are finished for now, Berhalter did not rule out revisiting a Diskerud transfer and pointed to the Crew’s perch atop the allocation order as a key piece in the process.
“We’re not closing the door,” he said. “We’re still No. 1 in the allocation ranking, and I think that’s important because we’re still in that position. So the dialogue can continue, and we’re not shutting any doors on any player. We’d have to reevaluate it and see if it’s the same type of deal we want to do.”
Ultimately, Berhalter left the experience with a positive outlook and promised Crew fans a bright future with him and Precourt at the helm.
“We were in a position to sign a young national-team player about to enter the prime of his career playing over in Europe, and that’s exciting,” he said. “I wanted it so badly for the fans and for the club and for the city.
"I’m disappointed it didn’t go through, but I can guarantee you that we’re going to be in a position like that again. We’re going to be aggressive, and we’re going to be going after the best guys, because that’s the commitment from the owner. He’s not afraid to allocate funds to do this, and I’ve learned that over the last couple of weeks. I’ve learned first-hand how committed Mr. Precourt is to turning this team into a winning team.”