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 MLSnet.com 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.