>By Evan Ream, with help from the Intern
Last Year: 14-8-8 50 points, 2nd in East, 5th overall. Lost to Colorado Rapids 2-2 on aggregate (5-4 on pks) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Lost to Seattle Sounders FC 2-1 in the US Open Cup Final.
Key Losses: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Gino Padula, Brian Carroll, Andy Moffat, Eric Brunner, Frankie Hejduk, Steven Lenhart
Key Additions: Jeff Cunningham, Julius James
Projected Starting XI: The Crew’s lineup, without Guillermo Barros Schelotto, should be somewhat different from last year. Last year, they played somewhat of a 4-4-1-1 with Schelotto operating under the lone target forward. With Schelotto gone, Columbus will look to go with more of a 4-4-2. Last year, the main starting forward was Steven Lenhart; he is gone so the Crew will take on more of a South American feel with Peruvian Andres Mendoza looking to partner with Venezuelan Emilio Renteria up top. It should be noted that Jeff Cunningham is also available to play if needed, though at his age he may be better suited for a substitute role. The outside midfield of Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven will likely remain the same from last year while the inside will have changed. Robert Warzycha seems to have converted the Nigerian Emmanuel Ekpo into a center midfielder where he played decently against Real Salt Lake in the Champions League. Ekpo looks to pair with the promising rookie Cole Grossman. In the back, Andy Iro and Chad Marshall should return in one of the best partnerships in the league. The Crew cut both of their outside backs after last season; thus, they look to start the mediocre Josh Gardner at left back and the unproven Sebastian Miranda at right. William Hesmer will likely get the starting spot in goal.
Prognosis: The Crew are clearly in a rebuilding mode. They have legitimate stars in Eddie Gaven and Chad Marshall, but the rest of the team is filled with players that are either too old or too young. This team will struggle this year without the leadership of all the players they released such as Frankie Hejduk and GBS. I really can’t see this team contending for a playoff berth. They may be able to contend in some games, but there are too many holes. Look for the Crew to be exposed centrally with their young partnership and outside with their mediocre outside backs. This being said, the Crew have a really good central defense, but it won’t make up for their lack of experience and legitimate goal scoring forwards.
The Intern’s Take: Gone are the glory days of the Columbus Crew, the days of “Guillerrrr-moooo, Guillerrrr-moooo,” chants greeting every Crew corner kick and the team captain chugging beers with the fans. The Crew got rid of a lot of talent over the offseason and to put it simply, they have not come close to replacing the skill that they lost for the upcoming season. The Crew still have some very good players though, such as Andy Iro, Eddie Gaven, and Chad Marshall, who will all be key components of this year’s team. I also think that Will Hesmer is a very capable keeper who often goes overlooked and he will be heavily tested as the new back line finds their rhythm. Robbie Rogers needs to step up this season and have a big year for the Crew. Rogers was only able to manage a lone goal and did not get a single assist in the 2010 season. The man who served the corner that sent Honduras to the World Cup will need to take on more responsibility for Columbus this year in order to challenge for a spot in the playoffs. Like the Chicago Fire and FC Dallas, the Crew seem to have lost too much talent that is yet to be adequately replaced. This Columbus team will likely stay in the hunt for a wild card playoff spot, but after the season concludes, the Crew will likely be out of the postseason, looking back on better times as they continue to rebuild.