2020 Season Preview: Columbus Crew SC

Don't sleep on Columbus Crew SC in 2020. Despite missing the postseason last year, they played some of the best soccer in MLS, all while missing several key players and costing themselves points along the way with untimely defensive miscues. This year they're exponentially stronger on paper. 

Two of those injured players from 2019 – right back Harrison Afful and left back Milton Valenzuela – are back and they have a new star playmaker running the show. Plus, they added quality reinforcements in midfield and at center back.

Anything but the playoffs will represent an underachievement for a club that is looking to build momentum ahead of the launch of its brand new stadium in 2021.

2019 Finish

  • MLS Reg. Season: 38 points (10W-16L-8D), 10th in East / 20th overall
  • MLS Cup Playoffs: Did not qualify
  • U.S. Open Cup: Eliminated in Rd. of 16 (vs. Atlanta United)

Star players

  • Lucas Zelarayan — The tradition of Argentine playmakers in Columbus continues with Zelarayan, a club-record transfer signing who takes over for Federico Higuain. If the ex-Tigres man can deliver, the Crew will be a force.
  • Gyasi Zardes — The Crew center forward stands to benefit most from the Zelarayan addition. If he was able to score 13 goals without a star playmaker and both of the club's injured starting fullbacks, just imagine what he'll do in 2020.
  • Darlington Nagbe — The silky smooth midfielder has always wanted to play in his home state of Ohio and in 2020 he gets his wish alongside his former college coach. With everything falling in place for him, the best seasons for an ultra-motivated Nagbe may still be ahead of him. 

Key acquisitions and departures

  • IN: Vito Wormgoor — The experienced Dutch center back will slot right in next to Jonathan Mensah, buttressing a back line that cost the team precious points last year.
  • IN: Fanendo Adi — Another player rejoining head coach Caleb Porter in 2020 is Adi, who will get a chance to work his way up the forward depth chart behind Gyasi Zardes and regain the scoring touch from his Portland days.
  • OUT: Wil Trapp — It's a big deal when a hometown kid and former captain nicknamed "franchise" is traded away. But with Nagbe's arrival and Artur a contender to start every weekend, Trapp's playing time in Columbus was set to take a hit. 
  • OUT: Federico Higuain — The Argentine playmaker will go down as one of the club's legends. An ACL tear ultimately cost the now 35-year-old midfielder the send-off that the supporters would have also wanted.
  • OUT: David Guzman —The Costa Rican center mid never regained the form of his early days in Portland and nagging injuries ultimately took their toll.  

Projected Starting XI

2020 Roster

  • Goalkeepers (4): Jon Kempin, Matt Lampson, Eloy Room, Andrew Tarbell
  • Defenders (9): Harrison Afful, Chris Cadden, Waylon Francis, Aboubacar Keita, Jonathan Mensah, Axel Sjoberg, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams, Vito Wormgoor
  • Midfielders (10): Artur, Sebastian Berhalter, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr., Hector Jimenez, Youness Mokhtar, Aidan Morris, Darlington Nagbe, Pedro Santos, Lucas Zelarayan
  • Forwards (4): Fanendo Adi, Miguel Berry, Jordan Hamilton, Gyasi Zardes

Armchair Analyst: Strengths and weaknesses

  • Strength: The Crew are two-deep with MLS contributors at almost every spot, including playmaker where they set a new club record for outlay in purchasing playmaker Lucas Zelarayan. And with their fullbacks healthy this year, they’re arguably stronger at both of those positions than anyone in the league.
  • Weakness: Their central midfield depth is questionable, as it looks like they’ll be relying upon a pair of Homegrown rookies (Aidan Morris and Sebastian Berhalter) behind Darlington Nagbe and Artur. And it’s an open question whether the top end of the Crew’s lineup can win games at a high enough level to compete with the likes of Atlanta, Toronto, LAFC and Seattle.

Predictions

  • Ben Baer: 4th in East
  • Marcelo Balboa (Univision): 1st in East
  • Calen Carr: 8th in East
  • Charlie Davies: 7th in East
  • Matt Doyle: 4th in East
  • Kristian Jack (TSN): 5th in East
  • Frederic Lord (TVA Sports): 6th in East
Series: