Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Columbus Crew 2015 Preview: Attack with Deer-Like Fury!

A better approach. (Credit: kilo943fm.com)
What Happened Last Year
The Columbus Crew – remember when they went by that name, y'know, way back? – started strong last season. They put a big hurt on eventual Eastern Conference champs, DC United, in the first week, a result pretty much every dismissed at the time, courtesy of DC’s epically awful 2013. When the Crew shocked the Seattle Sounders, in Seattle, that was something else – perhaps even topping power rankings something else (not checking; lazy). Then games 5-19 happened and, suddenly, a flash-in-the-pan funk clung to the Crew. And then came the close, when the Crew went 10-3-2 (see previous link) to end the season, when people remembered how much they liked them all along. I swear this is the quintessential experience of being from Ohio...Anyway, Columbus hit the playoffs hot as any MLS club – except the New England Revolution. The Revs ended the argument about who was hottest by handing every member of the Crew two heads in Columbus in the first leg of their playoff series. In spite of the ignominious ending, good things happened in Ohio in 2014: Ethan Findley had a breakout season; Tony Tchani raised his game damned high; Michael Parkhurst anchored a pretty sound backline; newly-arrived 'keeper Steve Clark proved one of the finds of the offseason, etc. etc. So, no, it wasn’t ideal. But it wasn’t bad either.
Final Stats: 14-10-10, 52 pts., 3rd in the East; 54 gf, 42 ga

What's Happened Since
A very, very busy offseason, basically. The club rebranded, for one, going from the Columbus Crew to Columbus Crew SC; an upgrade in my mind, anyway. More importantly, the Crew brought in enough intriguing talent that I dubbed them my first "winners of the 2014-15 offseason." The changes started late in 2014, actually, when they brought in Emanuel Pogatetz (affectionately nicknamed "Poker-tits" in this space); after arriving last September, the club's new Austrian defender played only a couple games last season, but he sounds very much part of the fold this year. The biggest acquisition probably came with the signing of a "known" striker, former Sporting KC man, Kei Kamara. The Crew kept going – hence my fascination – by signing Icelandic midfielder Kristinn Steindorsson, Cedric Mabwati from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Mohammed Said, who joined the Crew from Sweden. When Chris Klute came over from the Colorado Rapids, I decided then done everything they needed for some reason...so I said they totally killed it and posted the same. Say what you will, the Crew did not stand pat.

What to Expect This Year
I recently read a report on the Crew's preseason loss to FC Dallas, where, among the author's bullet points, I came across a line that speaks to one general impression of the club and its personnel: "Even when the attacking players have the ball they don't seem to know what to do with it." The author also took a giant shit on Chris Klute – e.g. "Dallas attacked at will from his side, etc." – and that gets at the biggest question, specifically, how all those new players will pan out for Crew SC? Well, most of them have decent resumes (yes, even Klute) – Steindorsson, in particular, reads like a player on the up – so, that's reassuring. More importantly, Columbus didn’t lose any major role players (see, Arrieta, Jairo), which means the new players will have time to get adjusted. The $64,000 question, though, is how hard they'll push at the weak spots on the current roster. And can they answer the "what-the-fuck-do-I-do-with-it-now?" that at least a couple see when Columbus Attacks! (Like deer!). No player matters like Kamara, however, in that he fills a clear need for Columbus – e.g. a reliable, say 12+ goal forward. How do I know that was a problem? Name a Crew forward from 2014. See?

Bullish seems strong, but I think the Crew did enough to maintain playoff pace. Even with New York City FC and Orlando City coming in with the big bucks. 2015 will be a hell of a test for a small market club.

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