Take a moment to run through all the transactions that have materialized thus far in the summer transfer window and you’ll find Columbus Crew SC involved in a lot of them.
President and GM Tim Bezbatchenko and his head coach Caleb Porter have been, by far, the most active team during the summer transfer window, and with reason. They ushered in a new era in Columbus when they were hired in January by the club’s new ownership group. Given the timing of their appointment, they didn’t have much time together to plan for the current season. However, the first half of the campaign has allowed for ample assessment of the roster. Informed by their performances and results thus far, Bezbatchenko and Porter are now leaving their imprint on the Crew with a flurry of summer moves.
We know how that turned out.
Meram and Abubakar were traded and loaned out, respectively. Valenzuela and Higuain both succumbed to season-ending ACL injuries, part of a larger rash of ailments across the team. Losing players of that caliber is a nightmare scenario for any GM or techincal director.
Although Columbus will get roster relief for both players, meaning they can replace those players on the senior roster, they don't get salary cap relief. Injuries are part and parcel of the game but it is never easy to deal with them in the salary cap world we live in.
The bright side? Homegrown Player defender Aboubacar Keita and 2018 SuperDraft pick Luis Argudo have had the opportunity to step up and show that they can contribute meaningful minutes. But the team still had plenty of work to do once the summer window opened.
As a GM in MLS, you get to know your fellow colleagues well, and Bezbatchenko has always been skilled at navigating the complexities of the MLS roster rules and finding ways to use all the mechanisms at a GM’s disposal to improve a roster. And since taking the reins in Columbus, he has struck the right balance between finding players in trades within MLS as well as the international market.
In the process, he has acquired a significant amount of GAM and TAM which have afforded him the flexibility to sign or trade for the players he has added to the Crew roster. In total, he's made a total of nine moves in the primary window and another eight moves thus far in the summer window.
Bez’s big moves
Succession planning is essential for any successful soccer club, and knowing that goalkeeper Zack Steffen would be leaving for Europe this summer gave the Columbus scouting department time to search the globe for a potential replacement while also assessing their existing goalkeeper corps.
They opted for Eloy Room, who had a breakout Gold Cup for Curacao, and Bezbatchenko quickly followed that by trading Steffen’s backup Joe Bendik to the Philadelphia Union, a sensible move considering he was actually the highest-earning 'keeper on the Crew's roster.
At forward, starter Gyasi Zardes remains expected to shoulder most of the goalscoring responsibility, but the acquisition of both Romario Williams and Jordan Hamilton via trade gives Porter two relatively young strikers with lots to prove and a decent amount of experience both in USL and MLS.
They both count as domestic players for the roster and they come in at cap-friendly numbers. This level of depth gives Porter the tactical flexibility the ability to play with two strikers, as the Crew did during the latter part of their Week 20 match against the Chicago Fire.
Wide play is another important part of the Crew’s attacking identity, especially now that their talisman and creative midfielder, Higuain, is out for the year. And the Crew worked to bolster that area of the field, too.
During the primary transfer window, Columbus traded Meram to Atlanta and acquired David Accam from Philadelphia for the remainder of the year which injected plenty more pace into the Columbus attack.
Then Columbus opened the summer window by trading Robinho to Orlando City, opening the door for two of their bigger signings this year from the international market: Young Designated Player midfielder Luis Diaz and TAM signing Youness Mokhtar.
Diaz will provide lots of pace and can get in behind defenders while also providing quality service, which was on full display on the Romario Williams equalizer against Chicago.
Mokhtar is more of a playmaker who likes to cut inside from the left or find spaces in between the lines to link up and combine, putting his technical qualities to good use. The acquisitions give Porter the choice to play in either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, and there will be some healthy competition for spots in the starting XI.
Just when you thought that Columbus were done, Bezbatchenko signed Scottish defender Chris Cadden and immediately loaned him out for the rest of 2019, a move with an eye toward the long term and what he wants the roster to look like next season. Columbus currently don't have any available international roster slots and therefore don't need to worry about trying to trade for one right now.
Further moves could still come for Columbus, but they're more likely through intraleague trades rather than international signings. The Crew certainly have some players on their roster that could pique the interest of teams and I am sure that Bezbatchenko will be fielding calls between now and August 7.
Adam Braz served as the Technical Director of the Montreal Impact from 2015 to 2018, overseeing soccer operations and managing the MLS club's salary budget, player signings and negotiations among other duties. The former Canadian international moved into the front office after a playing career that saw him feature in USL, MLS and Scandinavia.