The new coach of the Columbus Crew, Gregg Berhalter, exudes confidence. He was hired after an extensive search by new owner Anthony Precourt. It is clear that he has a game plan, but Berhalter has inherited a team with several question marks. Berhalter can be a leader that builds the momentum Columbus desperately needs, but in a more competitive Eastern Conference the Crew should be watching the MLS playoffs on TV.
The attack is led by Federico Higuain as his creativity is unmatched on his team. Higuain was voted as the team’s most valuable player in 2013 and was second on the team in goals. He also wore the captain’s armband in 29 matches overall. Higuain could settle in behind a two man striker system allowing him to distribute and build on his nine assists from last season.
Dominic Oduro was moved to the wing in 2013 and it helped his scoring touch as he led the team in goals. If Berhalter does go with two upfront, Oduro is a candidate to pair with Jairo Arrieta. Oduro’s history says to expect an off year from him, but he seems to have chemistry with Higuain and Arrieta.
Bernardo Anor will be called upon to score a few goals this season as well as he showed he is fully recovered from a 2012 ACL injury.
The midfield is the weakest position on the field for the Crew. Wil Trapp is promising and will most likely play in a more defensive role. Who he pairs with and how successful they will be is the bigger question. At this point it looks like Agustin Viana and Ethan Finley will split time.
Deficiencies in the middle could lead to Oduro and Anor needing to help with transitioning the attack thus taking away from their offensive ability. Berhalter has considered a 3-5-2 formation that would change Trapp’s responsibilities, but the personnel grouping in the middle could be in flux regardless.
The back line for the Crew looks fairly set, but could change if Berhalter decides to go to a three-man line. Michael Parkhurst and Giancarlo Gonzalez are highly touted offseason acquisitions with plenty of experience. Gonzalez brings a physical presence while Parkhurst brings the smarts. Still the back line is short overall and could be exposed on set pieces. Josh Williams figures to be the back up in the middle.
Waylon Francis and Chad Barson would complete a four man back line. Francis would provide an offensive presence on the outside to link up with Oduro or Anor. Ben Sweat was selected in the 2014 SuperDraft to add some depth and much-needed height to the back line.
The Crew will have a new keeper after parting ways with Andy Gruenebaum. They brought in Michigan native Steve Clark from Norway. He was a mainstay for a bad Honefoss team. He did not have a lot of defensive help there so it could be refreshing for Clark to have trusted veterans in front of him. Clark was actually acquired through a sign-and-trade deal with the Seattle Sounders.
While this team should build momentum as the season moves along, the playoff outlook is not good. The rest of the Eastern Conference has improved while the Crew try to establish a new identity. They should finish with eight wins, seven draws and 19 losses for 31 points. That will place them at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Check back Saturday to continue following our series previewing all 19 MLS squads’ seasons as first kick approaches on March 8 at CenturyLink Stadium. Also be sure check out the previous MLS previews.