Columbus Crew 2013 Season Preview

The 2013 MLS season is nearly upon us. For Columbus Crew fans, last season was a year to be proud of in a lot of ways, but it failed at the most crucial benchmark: Making the playoffs. Perhaps the most excruciating part about not being able to take part in the postseason was how well the Crew played at times throughout the season. Amassing a solid total of 15 wins, the Crew joined only 2 other teams in MLS history to end the season with a winning record but still fail to make the playoffs. It’s hard not to look back at games like the late 1-1 draw away to San Jose in May and the loss to DC United in October and think about what might have been. That’s all in the past though and the 2013 season has the promise of a fresh start and a chance at redemption.

Crew players celebrate

Building the Squad:

The Crew have made a number of transactions (incoming and outgoing) in the offseason, as per MLS usual. Perhaps the signing that I’m most excited about is that of veteran defender Gláuber. The arrival of the experienced Brazilian will hopefully bring some more solidity alongside the ever present Chad Marshall and settle a defense that was rocked with injuries for large parts of last season. Another problem area last year was left back. Josh Williams and Bernardo Anor are not natural left backs and reinforcements were badly needed. Coach Robert Warzycha obliged with the acquisition of Tyson Wahl. Wahl has a lot of MLS experience and will slot in at left back. This should allow Josh Williams to slide over to his more natural right back position. 

The 2012 offseason also saw the departure of the enigmatic Dilly Duka. Towards the end of the 2012 season and through the offseason, it was clear that there was something going on behind the scenes with Warzycha and Duka amid speculations of a departure for the U-23 US international. After all was said and done, the midfielder was sent packing to the Chicago Fire, along with the rights to Robbie Rogers, with the Crew receiving the dynamic forward Dominic Oduro.  It’s tough to justify letting the Fire get such a promising, albeit frustrated, player but Dominic Oduro is a particularly exciting investment. The Crew have been missing that extra bit of midfield speed in recent years and Oduro is exactly the player to fill that void. Incredibly rapid, he’s a viable option off the bench when defenses are tiring, but also from the starting kickoff. His mere presence will push the opposition defense deep and allow more space for playmakers like Federico Higuaín to operate in. 

Another positive signing is that of Argentine midfielder Matías Sánchez from Estudiantes. Sánchez is nominally a defensive midfielder that can also fill in at right back if needed. I think his presence will allow a more readily available midfield passing option once the opposition team starts pressing high. I can see him sitting deep alongside Tony Tchani in the middle of the park allowing the Cameroonian to burst forward more frequently into the attack.

Some other notable acquisitions were forward Ryan Finley and defender Drew Beckie from the MLS SuperDraft, and 29 year old versatile defender/midfielder Agustin Viana from Uruguay. The Crew also decided to let go of some other prominent members of last season’s team including Sebastián Miranda, Milovan Mirošević, Chris Birchall, Nemanja Vuković, Olman Vargas, Emilio Renteria and Julius James. A lot of these guys played pretty big roles in last year’s campaign, and squad players like Danny O’Rourke, Ethan Finlay and Bernardo Anor will have to step up even more this year to fill the void. Veteran goalkeeper Will Hesmer also left for the LA Galaxy, though his departure shouldn’t be as keenly felt given the meteoric rise of Andy Gruenebaum.

Players to Watch:

There are a lot of different players that Crew fans will want to keep an eye on this upcoming season. Inexperienced players like Ben Speas and Ethan Finlay have a lot of potential and could easily play themselves into the starting lineup. Also, any fan watching a player as energetic as Oduro will always be placed on the edge of their seat. But it’s hard not to feel that something special is brewing with Federico Higuaín. The Argentine playmaker came to the Crew last year in July and made an instant impact within the team. His partnership with fellow new man Jairo Arrieta made all the difference to the Crew’s attack and sparked some brilliant attacking plays in the final few months of the season. It’s great to have such a talent play for the Crew, and Federico will look to expand upon his great form from last season.

Projected 2013 lineup and thoughts:

My Projected Lineup:  Andy Gruenebaum; Tyson Wahl, Gláuber, Chad Marshall, Josh Williams; Matías Sánchez, Tony Tchani, Eddie Gaven, Dominic Oduro; Federico Higuaín, Jairo Arrieta

I think the above lineup is one of the best in the MLS and will remain competitive throughout the season. Tyson Wahl will more than likely start at left back. He has some competition in fellow offseason acquisition Agustin Viana, but Tyson is an experienced left back in the MLS and knows what it takes to play at this top level.

I also think Tony Tchani will start in the midfield. He’s had injury problems in the past, but I’m willing to go out on a limb to claim that this will be his breakout season with the Crew. He’s still only 23 but still has a lot of prove. Other players, such as Danny O’Rourke, are more than capable of also starting in the midfield. O’Rourke’s aggressive playing style, along with his versatility, brings a lot of quality to the squad.

Dominic Oduro is another choice that is up for scrutiny. He was used mostly as an impact sub last year in Chicago, and will have to play well to claim a regular starting spot from the likes of Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay.

Pressure Mounting:

This Columbus Crew team has a lot of potential going into the new season. Pressure is piling high on Bobby Warzycha to make the playoffs this year. He has been under a lot of criticism and ridicule from fans in the past and hasn’t been able to effectively build upon the Supporters Shield he won in 2009, his first full season in charge (And even that team was mostly inherited from Sigi Schmid’s 2008 MLS Cup winning team). I have a feeling that this may be his last chance to make something happen, especially now that every position on the field seems to be contested with not only quality starters, but players behind to give them competition.

A solid defense lead by the ever reliable Chad Marshall and Andy Gruenebaum will be the foundation upon which the team is built. If Tony Tchani and Danny O’Rourke can stay fit this season, their presence alongside players like Dominic Oduro, Matías Sánchez and Eddie Gaven will anchor an exciting midfield. Of course, it’s impossible to win games if you can’t put the ball in the net, and that leaves the prospect of a potential full season of Federico Higuaín and Jairo Arrieta up front together. The duo announced their presence to the MLS immediately upon arrival and injected the Crew’s attack with that extra bit of class. There is no doubt the squad is coming together just in time for the season and there is no excuse for anything less than a prolonged MLS playoff run.

Let’s make this year Massive.

(image courtesy of Gregg Newton/Disney)

About Dustyn Richardson

Managing editor and Houston Dynamo writer for Total-MLS. Fan of all Houston sports teams and Manchester United supporter. Still angry at Bud Selig for moving the Astros to the American League.