COLUMBUS, Ohio – When the Columbus Crew chose not to exercise the options on several of their most popular players, a void was left not only in the locker room and on the field, but in the community, too.
Team captain Frankie Hejduk ingrained himself with his carefree attitude off the field, his passion on it and his willingness to mingle with fans.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto was not only was the maestro in organizing the attack, he was also an Argentine legend whom Crew president Mark McCullers called an international icon.
“That loss is not lost on me in particular,” McCullers said. “Frankie has been one of the most recognizable names on the team the past eight years. It’s difficult because players like that are hard to find.”
The Crew also parted ways with New Zealand native Duncan Oughton. With the Black-and-Gold since 2001, he was Columbus’ longest-tenured player, a fixture around the city and a fan favorite.
Also gone are Gino Padula, forward Jason Garey and midfielder Leandre Griffit. While Griffit arrived midseason, Padula and Garey were longtime contributors and very popular.
“It’s not like we don’t have star players on this team,” McCullers said. “We do. Chad Marshall comes to mind. He is clearly one of the best defenders in the league. Other players, too, are going to emerge as recognizable names and faces and stars.”
The loss of so many key players leaves a leadership void for the Crew.
[inline_node:316645]“There are few guys with the opportunity to take that role,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “One of them is Chad, obviously. Danny O'Rourke and who knows else?”
Marshall has never been comfortable in front of the media, but his teammates don’t care as long he has control of the locker room. Other candidates for the captaincy could be O’Rourke, goalkeeper William Hesmer, and midfielders Brian Carroll and Eddie Gaven.
Filling out the roster will be a formidable challenge. Not only must the Crew replace their six departures, but new league rules have increased roster size next season by six, from 24 to 30. The additional spots must be filled by developmental players under the age of 24.
Fortunately, the Crew have an excellent academy.
“We’re looking at our homegrown players as well to fill some of the roster spots,” McCullers said. “They’re guys who don’t necessarily need to step up right away but we want to get them into that professional environment and work with them and start their development.”
He knows some fans are fuming that Schelotto and others were let go, but McCullers said he feels good about the future.
“It’s scary for us, to be honest, but coming out of these players’ meeting the past two days I’m more excited and enthusiastic now because we have a group of guys who want to be here,” he said. “In these meetings I was almost taken aback by their passion and caring for what’s going on. It really came through.”