The Columbus Crew do not believe they are in need of a roster overhaul.
That argument is an easy one to make. Despite surprisingly missing the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, Columbus still have a vast majority of the core that won MLS Cup 2020 and last year's Campeones Cup. They endured an uncharacteristic number of injuries to key players last year and juggled early-season Concacaf Champions League games, providing context for why intentions didn't go to plan.
Columbus ultimately fell one point shy of the Eastern Conference's playoff line, which was a step back from a club widely expected to compete for the Supporters' Shield. Though with key players Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes, Artur, Jonathan Mensah and Eloy Room back for 2022, they're bullish on their chances for a bounceback before significant reinforcements arrive.
“I know it’s been quiet, but we’ve got a plan," head coach Caleb Porter told media on a virtual press conference. "We’ve got certain positions we’re looking at. You’re going to see moves made here the next several weeks. I feel confident by the start of the year we’ll have another four or five guys added and we’ll be in good shape.”
Columbus aren’t running back exactly the same group, with the beginning of their offseason marked more by departures than arrivals.
“Our most significant improvement is going to come by staying healthy," club president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko said. "We won MLS Cup two years ago then added to that (roster), but we got injured. The idea is that if we’re healthy, we’re going to be competitive. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to bring new players in, but this roster doesn’t need wholesale changes. We’re looking at players who could be starters, we have some homegrown signings we’re looking to finish.”
Columbus' lone newcomer thus far is Ghanian attacker Yaw Yeboah, acquired in a transfer from Polish top-flight side Wisla Krakow. The 24-year-old is a dynamic winger who signed with Manchester City when he was 17 and went on loan to Lille, FC Twente and Real Oviedo.
“On the wings, we didn’t get enough production," Porter said. "Yaw Yeboah is a guy who will produce goals. He’s athletic, a two-way player. Individually he can create for himself and has goals for him; we feel we’ve gotten better on the wings. That doesn’t mean we didn’t already have good players (on the wing), but we feel Yaw Yeboah will add from the top. He’ll bring a little something different that teams will have to worry about.”
One player currently not on the roster is left back Milton Valenzuela. He was out of contract and the Crew have remained in negotiations, though reports suggest he's nearing a move away. Columbus left the door open for Valenzuela's return, but have planned for a future without the Argentine defender.
“We’re prepared to play the season without him," Bezbatchenko said when asked about Valenzuela. "We have a player we’re looking to sign (for left back), but we’re still in talks with Milton.”
Bezbatchenko later added they made him an offer and "the ball is in Milton's court," while Porter noted the potential for Valenzuela to return is "not completely dead yet." Santos is likely to play a regular role at the position if needed.
Columbus have plenty of time before opening the season and expect to be active over these impending weeks. Their first match of 2022 is Feb. 26 against Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Lower.com Field.
“At the end of the day, we had to get stronger,” Bezbatchenko said. “We had to get healthier and we had to get younger. … We already signed Yaw Yeboah but we’re not finished yet.”