The Crew Attack: Columbus’ Hopes and Options

With the Columbus Crew’s defense preview out of the way, it’s time to turn to the Crew’s offense. Before going any farther, let me just acknowledge one thing: offense and defense don’t separate perfectly in soccer; anyone who has seen Frankie Hejduk blaze down the right side to fire in crosses (of whatever quality) knows this. That said, the discussion below focuses on players for whom offense is the primary responsibility.

Before looking forward, however, let me take a second (or a paragraph) to look back – though, given 2007, I don’t expect Crew fans to feel enthusiasm for joining me. Until the arrival of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew struggled with scoring – and things didn’t so much turn around as improve thereafter. The 2007 Crew would never be mistaken for an offensive power. Most observers point to the absence of a quality forward and, for what it’s worth, I agree with most people. The Crew tried to address this problem in the off-season, but they have so far failed to find their man (thanks for the freakin’ memories, Maciej Zurawski).

Even if they missed out on a high(er)-profile acquisition, the Crew has done some restocking with players on trial like Nigeria’s Emanuel Ekpo and Brazilian Guilherme So; neither player has formally signed with the club, but both were in the works last I read with Ekpo being the closer. There’s also Nicolas Hernandez’s arrival to consider with the question of whether this is “Nico Mark’06” or Nico Mark’07” preceding him. Talk of a couple forwards shipping to Columbus from the Honduran league (Brazilian Jocimar Nascimento and…some other dude) means more reinforcements may yet show.

However all those pan out, what we can all count on is the return of some players, plus signs of promising development for them. The Crew appears as ready as they’re going to get for the 2008 season. The question is whether it’s enough.

The Parts
Midfield: Stefani Miglioranzi (D/M; he’s a bit of wild-card), Brian Carroll, Adam Moffat, Duncan Oughton, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Eddie Gaven
Forward: Brad Evans, Jason Garey, Nicolas Hernandez, Alejandro Moreno, Robbie Rogers.

How They’ll Fit Together
Again, all this depends on formation. Assuming a 4-4-2, I’m expecting something like this (from left-to-right):

Midfield: Gaven – Carroll/Oughton/Moffat – Schelotto – Rogers
Forward: Moreno – Hernandez

Or maybe this:

Midfield: Miglioranzi – Carroll – Oughton – Schelotto
Forward: Rogers/Gaven – Moreno/Hernandez

All that’s to say, it occurs to me now that Schmid has plenty of potential looks to field – and that’s without players like Ekpo or So getting into the mix. Holy crap!

But why assume a 4-4-2? Given the personal, perhaps a 4-3-3 makes more sense. That could look like:

Midfield: Moffat – Carroll – Gaven
Forward: Hernandez – Moreno – Schelotto

Or – what the hell? – why not a 3-5-2…no, I’m done; no more permutations, I beg you.

How They’ll Work (I Think)
Despite the general unpredictability of the starting offensive set-up, a couple realities should define the Crew’s attack. First, Schelotto will be involved; the $1 million questions are for how long and with how much interest; maybe moving his family to Columbus will allow him to nest. When he’s plugged in, Schelotto gives the Crew so much more flexibility and savvy in approaching the attacking third; odds are he fed just about anyone wearing Crew yellow last year, but signs of a partnership between Moreno and him stood as one of last season’s high points. Working Hernandez into that mix could make a happy trio, but the Hernandez signing, as much as I like it, is very much a wait-and-see kind of thing.

Speaking of which, Rogers has “X-factor” written all over him. He ended 2007 on one hell of an up, scoring goals at a respectable clip and generally showing he can cause problems for opposing defenses. If he starts where he left off, the Crew improves almost immediately. File Gaven in the “X-factor” drawer as well, even if that’s a somewhat sad statement on a player who has promised so much for so long. That said, Gaven is another one of those players I like – a little unpredictable and, when he wants to be, pretty silky; on the downside, he’s also maddeningly inconsistent.

So…the question remains: how does Schmid fit all these pieces together? And what the hickity-heck does he do if and when he adds a couple more? Who knows? And maybe that’s the problem. Having the capacity to throw different looks at the opposition has it’s pluses, but there’s a big minus as well: it’s harder for players to establish familiarity with one another. In any case, expect Schelotto to travel to where he feels he needs to be in order to keep things moving; Carroll will probably lurk behind; Moreno will probably run around up top; after that, you’ll have the outside backs overlapping into the attack (see? Hejduk made it in here), but I can’t really feature who else goes where.

I’d feel more confident about projecting the Crew’s chances for success if I could nail down how they will line up, but that looks a lot like the biggest X-Factor of all. For all that, I’m tempted to say Gaven and Rogers will both enjoy career years and Moreno will do what no forward in MLS does as well: pick up fouls and generally drive defenders crazy on the way to scoring six, or more, goals.

My bottom line? They could do a lot worse. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like their going to do a lot better. But look on the bright side: Jason Garey doesn’t look like he’s going to be a starter this season. That’s got to be worth something.

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