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Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Columbus Crew

Jan 22, 2013, 3:00 PM EDT

Federico Higuain

(Over the next week we’ll look at two or three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Anyone else thinking that manager Robert Warzycha has to get it right this year?

Things started well enough when the former Polish international took over for Sigi Schmid back in 2009. A Supporters Shield was claimed and the team made the playoffs.

That’s been the high water mark, however. Two subsequent playoff appearances have helped maintain a certain level of success, although the club is still looking for its first post-season win since claiming the MLS Cup under Schmid back in 2008.

Last year saw a back slide as the Crew failed to qualify for the playoffs; they just couldn’t keep the momentum going from Federico Higuain’s fantastic start.

So as camp begins in 2013, the pressure is surely building. Answering these three questions would things begin moving the right direction.

  • Can the new faces get acquainted quickly?

It seems a little early for a roster re-do, seeing as the Crew pretty much took a sledgehammer to the side just two years ago. But here we are.

Dilly Duka, brimming with potential, wants a trade. Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic has just moved on. Sebastian Miranda, Cole Grossman and Emilio Renteria are out of there, as well.

Longtime No. 1 William Hesmer is gone, having lost his spot to Andy Gruenebaum. Gruenebaum will start in goal, but they’ll need a reliable backup. So the team will need to integrate lots of replacement parts.

MLS vet Tyson Wahl has made Columbus his latest stop. Brazilian veteran Gláuber was just signed to partner with Chad Marshall in the center of Columbus’ defense. Club GM Mark McCullers says several new signings may be announced over the coming days and weeks; the blog Massive Report says defensive midfielder Matías Sánchez may be one of them.

  • How best to build around and capitalize on Higuain?

Over 17 MLS seasons, few players have landed with such a ferocious impact as the Argentine attacker did last season. Higuain started only 11 matches and yet still managed to generate some league MVP chatter.

Clearly, the Crew have found something potentially quite special in their 28-year-old forward / attacking midfielder, whose resume includes stops at Boca Juniors and River Plate, and whose brother Gonzalo is among the Galacticos of Real Madrid.

“Something special” means one thing: you build around the guy, fitting the parts and designing the system concentrically around his particular set of abilities. Warzycha and his staff didn’t have time to do so last year. Now they do.

  • How to get the best from everyone?

I love Eddie Gaven and continue to see him as one of Major League Soccer’s most underrated men. Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to see the team’s busy flank midfielder get more than two assists (to go with those nine goals, which, to be fair, is above average production for his position). No one has quite unlocked Tony Tchani’s full potential, which is mostly about making him more consistent. Chad Marshall can still dominate, but he can have his off nights, as well.

Once Warzycha and McCullers fill in the roster gaps, getting the best from the familiar faces around Crew Stadium will certainly help the cause and ease the significant transition ahead.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: D.C. United

  1. tylerbetts - Jan 22, 2013 at 6:07 PM

    I’m more concerned with the question of “what is your identity as a team”.

    Start of the year they were an efficient, if boring, team capable of holding lines, playing stout defense, and giving their mostly dormant offense a chance to steal a point or three by keeping the other team out of the net. Later in the year, that defense became porous, just as the offense got some creativity and started breathing live into the scoreboard. If they can find a way to take both of the positives, you’ve got a Cup and Shield contender. If you take both negatives, you’ve got Chivas USA. If you have one of each or are inconsistent, you’ve got a fringe playoff team – just like last year.

    The other question is can Higuain and Arrieta do for an entire season what they did for the last part of last season. Higuain got all the publicity (and he deserved it, no doubt), but O-H Jai-Ro scored 9 goals in 18 games. If he comes close to matching that pace and gives the black and yellow 15-20 goals for the season, we’re in for a fun ride.

  2. Steve Davis - Jan 22, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    I hear ya. But I’m not 100 percent sure the style question is something they can answer with certainty in preseason. As for Higuain and Arrieta, that’s a question that will be answered over the entire season (as your query suggests); what we’re talking about here, of course, is what their chief objectives need to be for preseason camp.

    • tylerbetts - Jan 22, 2013 at 7:11 PM

      Ah. That one’s on me then. Reading comprehension fail, as I misunderstood the scope of the piece.

      As you were, then. Good points all around.

      Any idea what happened to have Duka fall out of grace?

      • Steve Davis - Jan 22, 2013 at 8:16 PM

        On Duka, no. In all honesty, I missed that one until I started poking around Crew-ville today for the preseason piece. Maybe in the coming days ….

  3. wesbadia - Jan 23, 2013 at 8:33 AM

    Do you really think Gruenebaum needs a more solid backup than Lampson? Other than being made to look a fool by an Henry Olimpico, I thought Lampson did great for a (what?) 20 year old kid with no prior professional experience. So far, I see nothing but good with Lampson coming out of the Crew homegrown signing. Now, like I had alluded to in an article I wrote back in the summer, if Montreal would’ve selected Gruenebaum in last year’s Expansion Draft, that would’ve put Columbus in a very large hole last season, and possible this season as well.

    Looking back on the last four seasons, there’s definitely a trend with the Crew’s performance. Ever since Warzycha took the reins, it seems like there’s been a slow sliding down the slope. No question Sigi’s brilliance from the bench was the reason the Crew were so dominating for a couple years, and I honestly think that was the bigger of the two losses after their Cup and back-to-back Shield seasons (GBS being the other). Warzycha seems like a formidable assistant, but I’m beginning to question his actual competencies as a head coach. Perhaps that’s the biggest concern of mine for Columbus this season: will Warzycha finally have a break through and become the high quality coach he needs to be, or will he remain consistently mediocre and be replaced by mid-summer?

  4. dga57 - Jan 23, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    I think the biggest problem has been the head coach. Players wanting out, players being played out of position, lack of tactical awareness. You are too generous when indicating that they went from the Supporter’s Shield (and a first round playoff exit), to two years of playoffs to missing the playoffs. The first of those two playoff years we again lost in the first round. The second of the playoff years we lost the play-in game (i.e., did we even make the playoffs if we didn’t win the play-in game)? If you look at the Milo acquisition, he was supposed to be an attacking midfielder with a nose for the goal. When you read the interview that he gave when he left, he indicates that he thought he did adequately playing in a position which is not his strength (defensive midfielder) and that his best performances were when he was able to move up in the attack. Josh Williams seemed to be a diamond in the rough that looked to be the answer to our center back problem yet he was pushed out to leftback to make space for James, Mendes and Gehrig while Vukovic was banished to the bench.

    I have high hopes that the players coming in, Arrieta and Higuain last year, and Glauber and maybe Martin or a new forward, will be good enough to overcome the weakness on the sideline.

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