SuperDraft Scouting: The Columbus Crew’s Many Moving Parts

This is the second of today’s pre-SuperDraft posts on the two Major League Soccer (MLS) teams I adopted for the 2008 season: I’ll cover the Crew’s drafty-day prospects in this post; the Colorado Rapid’s appears below. Consider this a stab at figuring what each team can or should do ahead of and/or during Friday’s SuperDraft.

MLSnet.com hasn’t yet updated the order on the SuperDraft to reflect the latest (at least not that I know of), but the press release/article they sent out Monday showed Columbus with picks #6, 20, and 48. Something posted on the Crew’s official site confirms I’m not crazy. They could get great value from that #6 pick and could come up with something for #20 as well. #48…well, it ain’t nothing. So, let the record show the Crew have options. On top of that, they have a fair amount of other activity in the hopper, a detail that complicates figuring out what they want out of the draft.

For all that, I think Steve Davis is on to something with his casual mention that the Crew are thinking defenders first (it’s a needle-in-a-haystack, but it’s in there). Based on reports from other, non-SuperDraft-related sources, they’re looking abroad for attacking talent. This makes sense to a fair degree: not to knock defenders or their art (and it is an art, something you’d know if you’ve seen me defend), but you can take a college-quality midfielder and teach him to defend; happens all the time in MLS – and you get a defender who can pass out of the deal. Add to that Buzz Carrick’s high opinion of the pool of defenders and it appears the Crew have a great shot at filling this specific need. They might even do it twice over.

But Davis’ quick comment is just one view on what the Crew need. Again, I’ll turn to Jeff Carlisle’s ESPN piece on each MLS teams’ needs and my review of Columbus’ 2007. And, again, let’s start with Carlisle:

“Crew coach Sigi Schmid is on record as saying he’ll look to the draft to acquire a central defender with pace. Whether this is a smoke screen remains to be seen, but given the depth the Crew has in the back, their needs would appear to lie further upfield. So does Schmid look more toward midfield for new attacking options, especially with Guillermo Barros Schelotto wanting to return to Argentina? No college player can do what Schelotto does, but Schmid probably will look more toward the center of the park first and then try to add depth up front.”

And now me:

“- A good starting forward -e.g. no college kid. This is a huge need. Moreno will up his value instantly.”
– Commanding, healthy central defender. A couple wingbacks wouldn’t hurt, either. For all the times I think Hejduk might be immortal, deep down I know he’s not.
– For Gaven and Rogers, as well as O’Rourke (who I almost shifted to the “ought to leave” list) to step up in midfield. Adding Brian Carroll could help, but Schelotto needs help strong enough to serve as decoys.”

To sum up: both Carlisle and I talk forwards – or attackers at least. I’ve been very remiss in updating the Guillermo Barros Schelotto saga on this site, but the latest points toward a return to Argentina. If that situation breaks against the Crew, yeah, their needs suddenly get a lot more complicated. Then again, if they pick up that “Big Fish” designated-player forward they’re reportedly after, they can then focus on attacking midfielders. With the rest, Carlisle wonders about a red herring angle with the defender, but that’s a need I saw and that’s what the Crew are talking. Then again, there’s also talk of converting Danny O’Rourke to defense – something that strikes me as well worth the try.

So…where does that leave things? Well, excuse the French, but fuck if I know. Too many moving pieces, you see. Still, sit down to write something like this and you’ve got to ask the question, right? This time around, I’ll need all Buzz Carrick’s SuperDraft scouting reports (defender, midfielder, forward). And, again, for the outgoing potential, I’ll check for some tasty, tasty excess fat on Columbus’ roster (and back it up with at last year’s salary numbers, which can be downloaded from the MLS Players’ Union’s site).

Personally, when that #6 pick comes due, I’d go forward first and midfielder second – it all depends on who’s gone by then. And I think I’d go that way even if the Crew F.O. feels confident of landing that Big Fish forward and even if Schelotto leaves. Unsettling as the prospect of relying on service from Ricardo Virtuoso, Robbie Rogers, and Eddie “Streak” Gaven may be, the Crew is damned thin up top: it’s Alejandro Moreno followed a virtual free-fall to Jason Garey. Even with “Big Fish” you’ll want a new forward for depth at the very least; the Crew could probably do worse than to get two, but they can trade one of their surplus midfielders to pick up cover as well.

To linger on that #6 pick, the million-dollar question is whether a player like Eric Avila remains available by then. It would take one hell of a straight-outta-college midfielder to shake me from prioritizing a forward at #6, and that’s even with Ives Galarcep giving him high marks. If/when Schelotto bolts, it’s something to think about, but I’m hard-pressed to believe Avila would improve on Rogers or Gaven.

So, that’s #6; what, then, becomes of the #20 pick…and, all right, #48? Assuming the Crew are sincere about wanting that central defender, I’d use the #20 pick there. Carrick’s scouting report dubs the defender pool “deep” and, even allowing for the fact that not all those are central defenders, I’m guessing the Crew could get someone to cover the starters. And they’ll probably need that cover – and this year – even with word that both Marcos Gonzalez and Chad Marshall are slated to return (whoops; maybe not on Gonzalez; see second asterisk). It’s Marshall and those concussions you have to worry about. For what it’s worth, I count a defender as a pretty real need.

As for #48, hell, just add some depth…either that or take chance on a forward.

One final issue to wrap up: how’s the Crew set for trade-bait? Well, the obvious place to look there would be midfield….and, well, I’m not seeing it. I mean, there is fat there, but, much like Colorado, the Crew have kind of a weird set-up: they have this tricky balance of players, one so tricky that it’s hard to figure how they’d move a player another team would actually want without upsetting the balance. Off the top of my head, though, I could see someone jumping at someone like Rogers, but the Crew would have to get a lot in return for that move to pencil out.

In all honesty, though, I think it wise that the Crew stick with the SuperDraft and their pending trades. From what I gather, they’re taking decent steps toward building a better team for 2008; it’s just a question now of what moves pan out.

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