OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew SC fans can expect one of the team’s most promising youngsters back next season, but the futures of two major contributors will likely be up in the air this offseason.
With their 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, Columbus is out of the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, and the team now faces an offseason in which they’ll have to decide how similar their squad will look in 2019.
At their final media availability of 2018 on Monday, most Columbus players agreed that they have a core that they want to keep together.
Striker Gyasi Zardes, who had a career year in his first season with Crew SC (earning him 2018 MLS Comeback Player of the Year honors), said he “100 percent” believes a similar squad can contend for a title next season.
“I think we have the team to win it all. I thought that (before the loss) and I still think that today,” he said. “Although we lost against New York, I think we can beat that team on another day. We can beat Atlanta, Kansas City, Portland. I’m very confident in this group.”
Left back Milton Valenzuela, 20, was a breakout performer this season, also his first with Columbus. The Young Designated Player, acquired on loan from Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys in January, made 30 appearances in his first season and proved both capable of hanging in MLS play and growing into a special player in the future.
Head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter said Monday that Valenzuela is likely to be signed permanently. Asked if there was much work left in that process, he simply said “no.”
Berhalter was noncommittal about their futures, but left open the possibility of their transfers.
“Like all of our players, when there’s opportunities and when a market is created for them, we’re happy to be in communication with clubs,” he said. “Both of them have a lot of potential. I think they both have international value. It wouldn’t be unforeseeable for clubs to reach out to us.”
He refused to comment about his future both after the loss to New York and Monday afternoon, and said he’s approaching the beginning of the offseason like he would any year.
“There’s option deadlines, there’s roster planning – that’s work in itself,” he said. “So I think the goal is very similar. You focus on how you get better.”
Will Berhalter be the one making those decisions, at least for now?
“Yes,” he said.