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. Continue reading

Crew Stocking Up; Balance Shifting?

In a case of life imitating art (or whatever the hell it is I do ’round here), the Colorado Rapids and Columbus Crew waited for their luggage side-by-side at same airport a week or so ago. My apologies for missing this significant event last week. It’s like God is telling them that somewhere, someone is forcing a comparison between their teams…the question is, who will respond?

Let’s just say it’s possible that the Crew’s recent ambition changes what I wrote just nine days ago. Reports of players coming on board and the roster taking shape emanate from Central Ohio and the keyboard of the Columbus Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell. A blog post on the various incarnations of the Crew slapping around Ohio Dominican not only talks about who looked good (Andy Moffat, Brian Carroll, Chad Marshall, Alejandro Moreno – especially the latter, albeit against weaker opposition), but also reports Gino Padula and Emanuel Ekpo should be “in the fold this week” and that their also working on signing Guilherme So. A piece in the main pages of the Columbus Dispatch on Nicolas Hernandez’s enthusiasm for playing with Boca Juniors legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto also speaks to the club’s ongoing ambition to sign another forward…possibly at Hernandez’s expense. Continue reading

(What Passes for) Columbus Crew News

On the soccer front, this is one slow friggin’ week in Columbus Crew news.  The only thing going seems to be Eddie Gaven’s “superb ball” or “excellent serve” to Josmer Altidore, which set up the penalty kick in the “Mini-Yanquis” win over Panama.  Good to see the kid do something positive.  (Now shave.  Wait.  Don’t.  You’re probably sick of getting pulled over by cops for driving underage.  But, dude, your beard looks worse than mine.)  After that, it’s all rumors of coming players, pissed-off fans, and ’08 season previews.  Oh, there’s also the front office, non-soccer bullshit that official sites enjoy posting.

Taking them in turn…

Soccer Insider reported that the Crew are taking an interest in Flavor-of-the-mon…, er, Argentine d/m (that’s defender/midfielder, not dungeon master) Matias Almeyda.  My first question is how an Argie ended up in Norway.  Less mysterious, after a moment’s thought, anyway, is why the Crew would go after a defender/midfielder given their more desperate need at forward: in a name, Marcos Gonzalez and, in a (conjugated) verb, gone.  WVHooligan gives a bit of history on the player, while a (new-to-me) site, Crewture, digs around what could motivate Almeyda to head to Columbus….and, for what it’s worth, he seems simultaneously skeptical and hopeful about the potential move.  Put me down as skeptical as well…moving on…

– Maybe Guillermo Barros Schelotto hepped him to life in Columbus.  Then again, maybe not…and the locals are pissed.  Really pissed.  For what it’s worth, fans – e.g. people madly in love with their team – get kind of weird about players.  Well, they can’t all be Duncan Oughton, I guess.  It’s worth remembering real people wear your club’s jersey  and, face it, real people are fickle, weird, and neurotic animals; they can screw up, wind up unhappy on the job, etc., just like anyone else.  Another part of it is the automatic – dare I say robotic? – adulation players give, and are expected to give, to the fans.  I guess what I’m getting at is, I’d pay less attention to what a player says – which, judging by the repetition of some particular inanities are pure pre-programmed bullshit 80% of the time – than what they do on the field.  If Schelotto dreams of Argentina every time he passes the ball, I can live with it; just so long as he passes the ball well and to the guys in yellow (or black).

– It’s preview season and I saw my first one for the Crew: WVHooligan’s.  I’ll turn in one of my own before the season starts – I anticipate an exhaustively, even stupidly, thorough affair – but recommend that one (and, thank the maker, that’ll be the only one this year; I’m doing conference previews only).  I’ll flag other ones as I see them.

– Finally, the corporate garbage…nah, I’m not going to post it.  I can’t see the point unless I’m going to mock it.

Crew TSII: Crew Coming Into Focus; Nifty Friendly (that sounds less nifty when you think about it)

(Just a quick FYI: I think I’ve got a good set-up in mind for the Rapids/Crew updates. Those will come early in the morning, the rest will follow. At least that’s the plan today. And, oh yes, I will miss breaking stories…that is all.)

It takes covering the Colorado Rapids to truly appreciate the true meaning of crap coverage. The comparative radio silence of Rapids-Land gives the several reports and updates from outlets official and private on the Columbus Crew a sense of things afoot. Good lord, it might even be a buzz.

Tucked in the middle of a weekly update focused on Eddie Gaven’s and Robbie Rogers’ call-up(s) to the U-23s, you’ll find the first and second half line-ups for the Crew’s embarra…I mean, loss to the Ventura County Fusion. You’ll see some familiar names from this pre-season in there – Emanuel Ekpo, Guilherme So, Sandro Jose, even Mamadu Bah – but it takes Covering the Crew’s latest post to get a bead on where these guys stand. To sum up – for those not interested in the expanded version: So and Ekpo look like they’ll sign – the latter, it seems, has really impressed; the team wants more time to evaluate Bah and talks with Sandro Jose remain stuck. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s talk of an imminent waiver in there as well: so long, Ricardo Virtuoso(?). Continue reading

Giving In: Crew v. Rapids, Early Impressions

For those unfamiliar with it, I have dedicated myself to follow and, to some degree, conflate the relatively separate fates of the Columbus Crew and the Colorado Rapids for the 2008 Major League Soccer (MLS) season. The idea is to see which of these long-struggling MLS original clubs make progress this season…and which falls still further behind as the league expands.

This post just came to me out of the blue (OK, I was on the can; does that make it “out of the brown?”), but I think there’s something to it. Back when I embraced this assignment, nearly two months ago, I liked Columbus’ chances better. The reasoning was pretty straightforward: Columbus, playing in the tougher East, had the look of a team that could be competitive with the addition of only a player or two (both forwards, preferably) and more time to gel. Against that, the Rapids had the look of a team in not only in need of a total overhaul on offense, but one with the impression of a toxic locker room (suffering, perhaps from sour relations between players and coach?). Continue reading

Crew TSII: More Tufts of Grass to Trip Over in Zurawski Chase & More

Soccer America’s Ridge Mahoney turned his pre-season maneuver series to the Columbus Crew this morning. While the piece focused on Guillermo Barros Schelotto – who seems both a wily one and happy to be in Columbus – some of what happened with the Argentine legend impacts the Crew’s surprisingly tricky pursuit of Celtic FC’s Polish forward, Maciej Zurawski.

Beyond discussing how the Crew plan to play Schelotto in their offensive scheme for 2008, Mahoney’s piece mentions that the team bumped his pay – quite probably by way of thanking him for 2007 and sweetening him on staying in Ohio (or bribing him to do so; interpretations can be tricky). The key details:

“Columbus doesn’t seem willing to pay DP prices for Zurawski, and with some allocation money being paid to Schelotto, might not have the funds necessary to buy out Zurawski’s contract and offer him an acceptable salary….Celtic had slapped a transfer price of $1 million on him and he’s also attracted offers from Germany, but after tomorrow those doors will close, so it may behoove the Crew to sit tight.” Continue reading

Player Movements: The Sun Shines in Columbus, Hides from Colorado (+ 1 More)

In spite of the fact that the entire country seems under the thumb of a brutal winter, the Columbus Dispatch’s blog caught a sunbreak over Columbus: Guillermo Barros Schelotto reported for duty as scheduled (whoops; I overread this.  UPDATE: Schelotto is scheduled to show tomorrow; he’s only in Columbus today.  Thanks, again, to Covering the Crew, Shawn Mitchell’s blog for the Dispatch, for providing that detail, plus many, many, many more.  That blog is yours (and my) one-stop Crew news source.)

Now, if they can only bag Polish forward Maciej Zurawski – and he plays half as well as advertised (I’ve never seen him; no opinion) – the Crew may yet play a little offense this year. It sounds like negotiations are progressing, though one has to worry about this phrase: “MLS and Celtic were not close to an agreement on a transfer fee.” Yes. That does complicate things…

Still, if and when that gets wrapped up, Crew fans can worry about the defense…what with Marcos Gonazlez gone to Chile…though my trolling of the BigSoccer boards unearthed some deep unease about the Crew’s off-season progress (I think things turn ugly right around here, if not before).

Turning for a second to my “other” 2008 team, the question of whether Christian “Surplus” Gomez comes over from DC United looks like the only game in town. Here’s the latest as BigSoccer people know it (it’s one of those discussions absent news – e.g. the mechanics of the deal, e.g. the stuff about which I know so much less than jack and, somehow, care even less – don’t say I didn’t warn you).

– Just one other item of as-yet covered trade dish: Remember that Raphael Wicky (Wicky-Wicky-Woo…sorry) cat? The one Chivas USA sniffed around a little last year (if memory serves)? MLS Rumors says they’re at it again.

Between my total ignorance of both Wicky and Zurawski, it could be time for me to broaden my soccer-viewing horizons…at least during the off-season.

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. 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: Continue reading

The Crew Doubling Down? (Tripling?)

From my view on Ives Galarcep’s shoulders, I noted that Guillermo Barros Schelotto appears ready to stay in Columbus. Ives’ ongoing reporting on Columbus has other people sniffing around – chief among them the Washington Post’s Steve Goff and the Columbus Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell. This may have less to do with coincidence than the faint buzzing issuing from Columbus.

On top of adding to the prevailing impression on Schelotto, Mitchell also gets Columbus GM Mark McCullers to open up about the Crew’s designated player (DP) slot. It sounds like the Crew is in the hunt for someone fairly specific:

“‘We do have a (designated player) that we are considering,’ McCullers said. ‘A European player, a forward who has had a significant number of caps with his national team. If we were able to land this player, we think he could be a player who can contend for the Golden Boot.'”

Significantly to what comes next, Mitchell suggests McCullers clarified “European player” as being a “native European” and a forward.

Here’s that: Steve Goff’s morning update names Jay Jay Okocha as a target for Columbus. Like a couple of the commenters to Goff’s post, MLS Rumors takes this to mean the Crew will use its DP slot for Okocha. But reading Goff’s post literally indicates this doesn’t have to be the case; McCullers description of the target player points the other way as well, both in terms of position and nationality. In other words, it’s possible the Crew is looking at a major reload on offense; three players if you count Schelotto as one that might have got away. And the thing with Okocha makes more sense if he’s a non-DP. Seeing as he has been a bit of a journeyman for a few years now and that he’s never really caught on at one of the big Euro club, I can’t see Columbus risking DP money on him….stranger things have happened, of course.

Still, big things are afoot – or at least attempting to be afoot – in Central Ohio. That goes double if there’s another veteran Big Fish out there the Crew is trying to land. Put it all together and I might have picked a good year to take a closer look at the Crew.

The Crew’s Moving Pieces + Schelotto

Full credit to Ives Galarcep on both of these…oh, god, I’m such a parasite…right, back to it. Contrary to what I did with the title, let’s go “significant” then “interesting.”

Schelotto appears set to stay put; or, rather, paperwork in transit (the P-1 Visa) points to Schelotto sticking with the Crew through 2008. Then again, that could be called a non-confirmation confirmation: Ives’ source, Crew coach Sigi Schmid, only says Schelotto has “enjoyed his time” in Columbus and that he “hasn’t hasn’t expressed to us that it is what he wants to do” – e.g. he hasn’t said he wants to return to Argentina. I’m just saying marriages have ended in similar circumstances (e.g. “she never told me she wanted to leave.”) So, stay tuned on that, I suppose.

UPDATE: Confirmations that Schelotto will stay in Columbus continue to roll in.  The latest from Ives – via Crew Pres. Mark McCullers – reads a bit more firm and direct than what the reporter got out of Schmid.

The second piece seems more solid and, in some ways, more interesting. Ives (again) also got Schmid to talk about Danny O’Rourke’s future with the Crew, a future that should see him shift to the defensive line to make room for DCU-transfer Brian Carroll in midfield. In related news, it looks like both Chad Marshall and Marcos Gonzalez will return for the Crew. While the latter seems all good, the former – Marshall – strikes me as a complicated case. Ives cites the concussions – a big deal for a defender, obviously – but I get why the Crew is willing to let Marshall chance it: if I’m not mistaken – and I could very well be – Marshall’s brief return in 2007 coincided with the Crew’s best stretch of the season. That said, don’t you go bruisin’ yer brain for the fans, son. They’ll do fine without you.

UPDATE: Crap. I totally forgot to discuss the meat of this move: O’Rourke in defense. Along with Schmid, I see O’Rourke’s essentially combativeness as his greatest asset; that the man looks like an ultimate fighter hardly hurts his cause. And he’s definitely an upgrade to Ezra Hendrickson, who is getting on in years, and, assuming he’s still with the team (yep), Rusty Pierce, who doesn’t seem the player he was in New England. The Crew has a lot of midfield – they had even more before Ned Grabavoy left for San Jose – so moving a guy who plays like a defender to make room for someone with a little more offensive upside makes quite a bit of sense.