Columbus Crew SC
- Columbus Crew SC
- Eastern Conference
- Home: MAPFRE Stadium
- MLS CUP: 2008
- Supporters' Shield: 2004, 2008, 2009
- U.S. Open Cup: 2002
For Columbus Crew SC, the 2016 season is about fulfilling promise.
The club began 2015 with a roster that contained some holes and prompted some questions. By midseason, they had filled in with additions like Gaston Sauro, Harrison Afful and Cedrick Mabwati, and had found the forward they needed in Kei Kamara.
But there was still plenty of gelling to do, and a leaky backline contributed to a disappointing point total that put the club out of the Supporters’ Shield race, but gave them just enough to make an MLS Cup run.
This year, all the pieces are there.
Kei Kamara (left) and Ethan Finlay
The club brought back all 11 of their MLS Cup starters, most notably the dynamic duo of Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay and the USMNT midfield partnership of Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani. With a young squad, that’s no easy task.
“It’s always hard to keep everyone together, especially after a successful season,” Owner Anthony Precourt said in February.
Gregg Berhalter has all the depth in the world in his front four, adding Ola Kamara, Emil Larsen and Conor Casey to one of the league’s most potent attacks. He also strengthened the back line with Amro Tarek and Corey Ashe. He says he crossed off “95 percent” of his offseason wish list.
“I think we’re stronger,” Berhalter said this preseason. “I think with the pieces we added, we’re stronger this year than we were last year.”
If that’s the case, Columbus are an MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield contender again.
The team has just five players over 30 – and of those, only Kamara, Federico Higuain and Michael Parkhurst will be depended on. The likes of Sauro, Trapp, Tchani, Finlay, Waylon Francis and Justin Meram figure to have even more to offer.
From all perspectives – fans, coaches, players, ownership – anything less than a trophy this season will be a disappointment in Columbus.
Armchair Analyst's Take
There are many, many more stories in MLS history of the team that gets close to the mountaintop but can’t quite plant their flag than there are of teams that get close, then come back the next season and get it done. Take the 2014 Revs, or the Houston teams from earlier this decade, or any number of groups who came within inches of victory but ultimately succumbed to age, injury and the roster churn that is part and parcel of MLS life.
Crew SC have kept their group together for another offseason, and with the exception of some understandable unhappiness from Kei Kamara, the year-over-year stability should be beneficial – especially given the crucial roles two mid-2015 arrivals (Sauro & Afful) played, and should continue to play.
Thus the one worry I have for this team, in Year 3 of the Berhalter Era, is staleness. At some point chemistry can veer toward complacency. More than any tactical or personnel concern, that’s what Columbus have to be wary of.
Key Offseason Transactions
KEY PLAYERS IN:
KEY PLAYERS OUT:
Corey Ashe<br> Ola Kamara<br> Emil Larsen<br><a class="small" href="//www.mlssoccer.com/topic/transactions">All transactions</a>
<a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/kevan-george">Kevan George</a><br><a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/jack-mcinerney">Jack McInerney</a><br><a href="//www.mlssoccer.com/emanuel-pogatetz">Emanuel Pogatetz</a>
Player to Watch: Tony Tchani
Under Berhalter, he's become a shoo-in starter and one of the league's best box-to-box midfielders. Now, can Tchani build on a 2015 season that saw him called into the US national team's January camp early this year? A little more consistency and a couple more of these won't hurt...
Clark; Afful - Parkhurst - Sauro - Francis; Trapp - Tchani; Finlay - Higuain - Meram; K. Kamara
Kei Kamara ($11m) led all forwards in fantasy production last season and provider Ethan Finlay ($10.5m) was the No. 5 overall performer, justifying their steep price tags. Pacey outside backs Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis are $7.0m each and are a safe bet to contribute assists while providing service to Kamara.
- Ola Kamara
- Cedrick Mabwati
- Emil Larsen