COLUMBUS, Ohio – Crew president Mark McCullers didn’t share the belief of many, including some on his technical staff, that Columbus were a strong defensive team for much of 2012.
While the Crew had seven shutouts in their first 18 games, they managed only one in the final 16 matches and allowed nearly half a goal more per game as the arrival of forwards Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín ushered in a more attacking mindset.
But despite that discrepancy, McCullers wasn’t happy with the backline’s performance from the onset, crediting goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum for keeping the team within striking distance of the playoff spot they ultimately would not reach.
"We need to sort out our defensive issues," McCullers said. "Frankly, we weren't a very good defensive team from the beginning, in my opinion. Andy Gruenebaum covered up some issues that we saw early on."
Coming from a man in his position, McCullers’ words resonated throughout the organization, reinforcing what he told MLSsoccer.com in December: "Status quo is not acceptable."
And action followed those words, as Columbus made several acquisitions designed to give the team flexibility and experience in the back.
Brazilian central defender Gláuber, Uruguayan left back/midfielder Agustín Viana and MLS veteran Tyson Wahl, who can play left back and center back, are expected to compete for two of the starting spots on the backline.
The holdovers would be center back and captain Chad Marshall and right back Josh Williams, who played on the left side because of injuries in his first season as a starter.
"Last year was one of the biggest challenges I ever had, playing at left back and the ball being on my weak foot the whole game," Williams said. "At right back they say they want me to get up in the attack and use my athleticism."
Wahl, 28, was the first of the three defenders brought in at a time when there were very few on the squad sheet following the departure of five players in the offseason. He realized early on that the Crew was intent on building depth, possibly at the expense his own starting spot.
"I've been facing that my whole career. Most players do," Wahl said. "It's not something I really focus on. If you look numbers-wise, if I was a coach, [I’d] say, 'Yeah, we need more defenders.'"