Feb 23, 2013, 2:45 PM EDT
Each day from now until the beginning of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, we will preview one Eastern Conference team and one from the West. MLS first kick is March 2.
No. 7 in the East is the Columbus Crew:
Significant additions and subtractions: Three important South Americans will help strengthen the Crew’s first XI. Brazilian center back Gláuber gives longtime Crew backline cop Chad Marshall a stronger partner.
New midfielders Matías Sánchez and Agustín Viana means solid roster holdovers like Tony Tchani or Danny O’Rourke are now in reserve roles rather than starting roles, which makes Columbus a stronger team.
The departures are notable not in their production around Crew Stadium, but because so much had been expected of players like midfielders Milovan Mirosevic and Dilly Duka, and forward Olman Vargas.
Duka left in a huff; he’s now with Chicago, which offered up speedy Dominic Oduro in exchange.
Rich Balchan, Julius James, Chris Birchall, Carlos Mendes and Sebastian Miranda were all starters at some point who had their options declined. Also gone is William Hesmer, the longtime starter in Crew goal who has now retired.
Strengths: Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín were two of Major League Soccer’s top summer signings last year, in tandem generating 14 goals and 11 assists in 31 matches. Get that over an entire season and Columbus probably cruises into this year’s playoffs.
A new 4-2-3-1 look should give Higuain opportunity to “think” his way around the game, freer to freelance thanks to two defensive screeners behind him.
Generally, the roster is stronger, with a little less “average” spread around the field.
Under Warzycha, the team has always been well organized and tough to oppose. Arrieta and Higuain, plus underrated two-way man Eddie Gaven, provide the offense-defense balance that had been missing for some time in Ohio.
Pressure points: It’s time for manager Robert Warzycha to take a settled roster and move the team beyond makeover mode, where the Crew have hovered since 2010. The core is there to build around in Higuain, Arrieta, Marshall (still an above-average center back, now in his 10th professional season) and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.
Speaking of Gruenebaum, the pressure may feel a little different this year. Last year he could ride in heroically as Hesmer’s replacement. Now, everyone expects Gruenebaum to don the super hero’s cape – and that’s a whole other level of pressure.
The soft spots are at outside back, on either side. There’s some talent, but one of the lesser tested types needs to put a stranglehold on the position. Also along the back line, strong as Marshall can be, remaining healthy and available tends to be an issue.
Is the club past all the emotional undertow from popular midfielder Kirk Urso’s shocking death in 2012? Who could blame them if difficult moments still linger? The rookie from the University of North Carolina died from complications of a heart defect on Aug. 5.
Difference maker: Higuain was so productive over his initial 8-10 matches upon arrival in Ohio last year that he kicked up some league Most Valuable Player chatter. (Higuain did claim league Newcomer of the Year honors.)
An injury crunched the momentum and slowed the Crew’s creator for the season’s final month, tamping down a playoff push that had looked so promising through August and September. The Argentine attacker (pictured right) has all the technical tools, all the know-how and all the desire to be a premier MLS man, and to be everything that the beloved Guillermo Barros Schelotto was for so long around Crew Stadium.
Potential breakout player: Talented young attacker Justin Meram will presumably get his chances around Crew Stadium; Arrieta figures to miss quite a few matches (and probably need resting here and there) due to Costa Rican international duty in World Cup qualifiers and in this summer’s Gold Cup.
Bottom line: You have to look at Columbus as one of the truly interesting teams in 2013, if only for the tremendous potential of the Arrieta-Higuain combo. Crew president Mark McCullers is certainly optimistic, stopping just short of predicting an Eastern Conference and the MLS Cup final being played in Ohio. Honestly, on paper, it’s really not such a stretch.
Apr 21, 2014, 8:35 AM EDT
Barring an epic collapse by Liverpool, Chelsea’s title hopes are limited to the Champions League.
Apr 21, 2014, 7:34 AM EDT
Despite the Albion’s poor status in the league they have managed to take points this season each of the Top 7 except City.
Apr 20, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
It’s actually amazing how quickly she regroups — in an instant — after getting blasted.
Quick Six: Liverpool inches closer, Moyes’ reception, and the rest of the headlines from the BPL weekend
Apr 20, 2014, 10:40 PM EDT
Mourinho changes his communications style, while Villa tried to secure its sale.
Apr 20, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT
No one would blame Evra for ignoring Suarez’s season, but it really is a strong nod to the Frenchman’s class.
Apr 20, 2014, 9:18 PM EDT
Blackpool: Where dozens of tangerines and tennis balls on the pitch are second in weirdness to a coach striking his own player
Apr 20, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
The Magpies have been brutal, and manager Alan Pardew’s return from suspension could require a job-saving performance.
Apr 20, 2014, 7:36 PM EDT
Plenty of notable names remain in question for Miguel Herrera.
Apr 20, 2014, 6:41 PM EDT
Bedoya’s fifth Ligue 1 goal was part of a 6-2 win.
Apr 20, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
Atletico Madrid is now 3 wins away from its first La Liga title since 1996, while Barcelona and Real Madrid can only hope for big mistakes
Apr 20, 2014, 5:01 PM EDT
The Timbers fell to 0-3 on the road this season with Saturday’s 1-0 loss, complicating an already head-scratching start to the year that has Portland in second-to-last place out West at 0W-3L-4T.
Apr 20, 2014, 4:21 PM EDT
How many Americans could find themselves in the UEFA Champions League next season?
Apr 20, 2014, 3:29 PM EDT
Arlo White and Graeme Le Saux break down how having a clear identity continues to push Everton above teams while Manchester United’s lack of an identity continues to hurt the team.
Apr 20, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
With domestic success and European disappointment, Paris Saint-Germain has decided to extend Blanc’s contract and the manager says it will be finalized in the coming days.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:53 PM EDT
After Toffees do the double over United, Martinez praises Moyes work and his own side:
Apr 20, 2014, 2:40 PM EDT
Luis Suarez and Raheem Sterling combined for Liverpool’s second goal, and video showed it wasn’t a fluke they knew exactly where their teammate was going to be.
Apr 20, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Everton’s old boss the villain on return to Goodison, as pastures new prove to be a nightmare:
Apr 20, 2014, 1:42 PM EDT
With the cheekiest of chips, Dimitar Berbatov sent Monaco to the Champions League with his winner against Nice.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:09 PM EDT
Randy Lerner released a pretty useless statement on the Villa website today, refusing to rule out a sale of the club which has been reported in recent days.
Apr 20, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Nightmare return for Moyes, as Everton do double over United for first time since 1970:
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