COLUMBUS, Ohio — Success comes with a price, and for the Columbus Crew, that means jettisoning some of their top talent to stay within budget.
“Any team that is successful in the league, the year after that they are going to be up against the salary cap,” technical director Brian Bliss said. “That’s how the cycle works because of general inflation, wages and you get depleted of your allocation resources.”
The Crew used their allocation money from missing the playoffs in 2005 and '06 to help acquire Argentine star Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2007. His arrival and several other moves by Bliss and then-coach Sigi Schmid transformed the Crew from a bottom-feeder to MLS Cup winners in 2008.
After the club’s first MLS title, Robert Warzycha replaced Schmid and led the Crew to a second straight Supporters’ Shield and the first of two straight quarterfinal berths in the CONCACAF Champions League.
The Crew were tied for the most points in the league in September before fading but still had 50 points – second-best in team history – while also making the final of the US Open Cup.
Along the way the Crew have been able to keep many of the players from the 2008 team. But the costs have accumulated in Columbus.
“Players get bonuses,” Crew president Mark McCullers said. “Those bonuses get added to the salary cap the following year.”
The Crew decided this week not to renew the contracts of Schelotto, Frankie Hejduk, Gina Padula, Duncan Oughton, Jason Garey and Leandre Griffit.
“It’s a matter of age, salary and terms of contracts,” Bliss said.
Schelotto, the team’s leading scorer the past three seasons, is the biggest name and highest-paid among the departures. But neither the team captain nor the longest-tenured player, Hejduk and Oughton respectively, escaped the axe.
“Guille brings a lot to the team, but at the end of the day, it’s a lot financially because the ability to retain him at the salary level he desires and expects creates ripples throughout the rest of the roster,” McCullers said. “We would have to make other roster moves in order to retain him at the salary he indicated he wants to be paid.”
The Crew decided to let the players go rather than hold onto them for possible trades.
“You owe them that,” Bliss said. “For what they’ve given the club you owe them that and don’t hold them hostage for a trade or use them as trade bait.”
McCullers said the Crew intend to keep their remaining core of 12 to 14 players as long as possible but added the team would face similar circumstances next year if changes aren’t made now.
“That’s the situation we’re trying to avoid and be proactive in making moves to ensure we’re not in that situation again,” he said. “There’s going to be tough decisions in our future.”