Less than midway through November, the volatile offseason of Major League Soccer has already shown itself in the Columbus Crew. Last week began with the news that the team would be parting ways with midfielder Matias Sanchez after the Argentinian had a disappointing debut season with the club. The team also cut ties with its first homegrown signing Aaron Horton, who was never able to translate his potential into production.
But the team’s biggest hit came last Thursday, when it was announced that veteran midfielder Eddie Gaven would be retiring from professional soccer. Interim head coach and technical director Brian Bliss confirmed that the team had figured Gaven into its plans for the next season, and said that the team would have to look elsewhere to fill the unexpected void.
Now, the Crew and newly appointed Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter will have to assess the rest of the roster. Here’s what will be on their minds:
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Matt Lampson – The young keeper showed that he can compete in the MLS after a long-term spell filling in for the injured Andy Gruenebaum. Lampson has said throughout the season that he approaches each match as an audition for the job, and the Crew will need to determine if it’s time to trust the Ohio State product with their future.
Andy Gruenebaum – Gruenebaum is one of three Crew players who are out of contract now that the season has finished. The veteran was a consistently solid performer before being sidelined for several weeks with a nagging shoulder injury, and in that time, Lampson capitalized on the opportunity. But Gruenebaum still believes he’s a top MLS goalkeeper, and his affect on the locker room is huge. He has said on multiple occasions that he wants to finish his career with the club, and it would seem to be in the Crew’s best interests to keep him around, especially given Lampson’s relatively small salary.
Daniel Withrow – Withrow is a young goalkeeper with potential. And at a low cost, it would seem unlikely for the Crew to go in a different direction for their third keeper.
Tyson Wahl – MLS veteran Wahl certainly had an inconsistent season. After a long run of starts at the beginning of 2013, Wahl fell out of favor with Robert Warzycha. But when Bliss took over, Wahl started for the remainder of the season. With an ability to play both center back and left fullback, Wahl provides consistent depth if nothing else, and at a relatively low cost, Wahl is very little risk.
Josh Williams – Williams is another player out of contract, and might be a trickier situation. Williams’s contract clearly didn’t reflect his importance to the team, and he will surely need to see a large difference in pay if the Crew want to keep him. That said, he has played all across the back line over the past two seasons, and has proven that he can be an MLS-caliber defender. The Crew will likely try to keep the Cleveland native.
Glauber – The highly anticipated Brazilian spent most of his season nursing a torn ACL, and as the team’s third-highest paid player, he will likely get another chance to show he can form a successful partnership with Chad Marshall.
Chad Marshall – The Crew veteran proved again why he’s so important to their back line, and it would be the ultimate shock if he didn’t return in 2014.
Eric Gehrig – Gehrig’s season was largely interrupted by injury in the summer, and the third-year defender made only six starts in 2013. The Indiana product has shown that he can play both in the center and on the right, however, and at a low cost will likely continue to be a utility player for the Crew. Chad Barson – Barson’s rookie season was one of the highlights of the year for the Crew. Used because of emergency at first, Barson seems to have cemented himself as an important player for the future, along with former Akron teammate Wil Trapp.
Drew Beckie – The rookie defender didn’t see any first team action during his first season with the club, but showed some potential in training and reserve matches. Beckie is low-risk depth in defense, and it would be a surprise if he weren’t around the team in the future. Augustin Viana – Despite injuries keeping Viana from a full season, the Uruguayan proved to be one of Columbus’s more versatile options, spending time both in the midfield and at left fullback. Viana should return. Kyle Hyland – Hyland is another rookie who, despite not finding the field for the first team in 2013, will likely be around next season.
Danny O’Rourke – O’Rourke remains one of the most recognizable faces of the Crew organization, but the offseason is far from certain for the veteran. The Worthington native has always struggled with injuries, and his ninth season in MLS was no different. While he had successful stints in central defense, O’Rourke was largely a utility player in 2013. At a high salary, O’Rourke’s future will be one of the toughest decisions for Berhalter.
Tony Tchani – Tchani had the ultimate roller coaster of a season. He started consistently early in the season, but fell out of favor with Robert Warzycha. When the team changed coaches, Brian Bliss praised Tchani’s play, and the central midfielder found a role. But with Berhalter’s emphasis on possession play and an up-tempo offense, it seems unlikely that Tchani will remain in Columbus for 2014.
Bernardo Anor – After a devastating injury last season, Anor rebounded well for the Crew in 2013. His athleticism and adaptability were important for a team that had very few attacking options other than Federico Higuain. Anor remains one of the team’s brightest young talents, though he still may be a bit raw.
Justin Meram – Meram will be another tough decision for Berhalter’s offseason plans. The Michigan product arrived in Columbus as a striker with the potential for goals, but has almost exclusively been played on the wing for the Crew, where he had a difficult time adapting to a role with more defensive responsibility. If he stays with the team, it will likely be because Berhalter can see him playing up top. Ethan Finlay – Finlay, like Meram, was a college striker who has been moved to the wing in MLS. But Finlay’s unquestionable speed and work rate seem to suggest that he can at least play a role for the Crew. And at a fairly low salary, Finlay could be a useful utility player on the Crew roster.
Konrad Warzycha – Robert Warzycha’s son was in an interesting position when the club cut ties with his father. The Ohio State graduate got some playing time in midseason, but was largely ineffective, and never found a foothold in the Crew lineup. While he isn’t an expensive roster spot, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team part ways with Warzycha. Wil Trapp – After returning from the U-18 World Cup in July, where he captained the United States team, Trapp started every game of the rest of the season for the Crew. Trapp was one of the team’s most consistent performers, and cemented his role as one of the most important Columbus assets for the future.
Kevan George – Despite earning multiple call-ups to the Trinidad and Tobago national team, George had another disappointing year for the Crew. He was tried in central defense and in the center of midfield, but the young midfielder rarely found a groove. He may not be able to handle the new Berhalter pass-and-move mentality. Shawn Sloan – Sloan was another rookie who didn’t find the field. It would be surprising for the Crew to not give him another year to show his merit.
Dominic Oduro – Oduro is the final member of the Crew’s trio of players out of contract this offseason. The Ghanaian was the team’s leading scorer (even over Federico Higuain) and showed versatility in his ability to play up top or on the wing. The speedy journeyman says he wants to stay in Columbus, but will need a raise. He deserves it. Aaron Schoenfeld – Schoenfeld was played seemingly out of position at points under Warzycha, and never found any footing. Until the penultimate match, the lanky forward hadn’t found the net in MLS career. But a goal and assist in New England may have bought him some time. Did he do enough? Jairo Arrieta – Arrieta’s season was one of the most disappointing for the Crew. The Costa Rican striker is one of the team’s highest-paid players, but netted only 3 goals in 26 appearances after scoring 9 in 18 last season. Arrieta will need to perform better to be worth keeping next season.
Ryan Finley – Another rookie, Finley found playing time toward the end of the season because of injury. He often looked panicked in front of goal, but was occasionally dangerous when he found the field. He’s a natural finisher, but needs to settle into MLS better. Federico Higuain – The Argentinian showed time and again why he was the team’s best player. Creating goals, scoring on wonderful strikes and captaining the team, Higuain is absolutely crucial, and will remain so in Berhalter’s system.