The 2014 MLS season kickoff is less than two months away, but the Columbus Crew still have plenty of work to do on a roster that still sits three players away from the 30-man roster that will take shape by opening day.
After a minor overhaul of the team since his arrival, sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter still has some large holes to fill, and trends since his appointment all seem to suggest that he will fill them with more youth in places where he feels he can develop a future MLS starter.
Homegrown signings Matt Wiet, Ross Friedman and Matt Walker this offseason give the club seven homegrown players on the roster, all in their early 20s. And with the 2014 MLS Superdraft just a week away, the youth movement will certainly continue.
"We feel like we’ve already gotten decent draft picks with these guys. These guys would probably have been drafted in the draft after the combine," Berhalter said after Wednesday’s signings of Friedman and Walker. "But we’re not finished, we want to move forward in the draft and add some more people who can help us immediately."
So with Berhalter’s wishes in mind, where do the Crew need to look with their three Superdraft selections?
Central Defense: After trading away stalwart veteran Chad Marshall to Seattle and declining the option on expensive import Glauber, the Crew have an unquestionable need in the center of the back line.
Defender Josh Williams (right) seems to be in line to anchor of the back line and Tyson Wahl (left) filled the gap nicely at the end of last season for the Crew.
Josh Williams seems to be in line to anchor of the back line, and Tyson Wahl filled the gap nicely at the end of last season, but along with Eric Gehrig, there isn’t enough stability to make it through the grueling MLS season.
It seems likely that the Crew will target the best center back on the board with the fourth overall selection, and they would be thrilled to get either Steve Birnbaum or Christian Dean, who partnered together at California.
Central Midfield: Wil Trapp has a stranglehold on a starting role after the potential he showed in 2013, Berhalter seems sold on Tony Tchani, and the Crew acquired Daniel Paladini in December, so if the team is looking to add a central midfield piece, it will likely be for depth and future potential, barring a move for another player in the coming week.
It seems unlikely that the club would use its first round pick on a central midfielder, but it would hardly be surprising to see one selected for developing with either the 23rd or 42nd overall picks.
Forward: After a hugely disappointing season from Jairo Arrieta, who the club brought back on what is expected to be a reduced contract, the Crew are still looking for an answer up top.
Berhalter has yet to reveal a system or formation he’ll be using in 2014, but it seems unlikely that the club will play with wingers in a 4-3-3 system or something similar, so a wide forward wouldn’t fit Berhalter’s plans. But a forward who can move out wide (like recent selections Justin Meram or Ethan Finlay) may be the depth they need behind Arrieta, Ryan Finley, Aaron Schoenfeld and whoever else they add.