Columbus Crew Offseason Moves and 2012 Preview
[Editor’s Note: The MLS season kicks off in under 8 weeks and moves have been made by every team. As my knowledge of the Crew is severely lacking, I sought out someone who lives and breathes Crew soccer to give an update on all that has been happening with the team. Michael Thompson is the player/coach of my adult co-ed soccer team and is a season ticket holder with the Crew. And while this is his first season as a season ticket holder, I know he went to almost every home game last year, and he even flew out to Los Angeles to catch a game against the Galaxy! That’s dedication. The Crew should give him a medal or something. So here it is, Michael Thompson’s 2012 Crew Preview.]
At or around this time last year, the Columbus Crew had parted ways with what many fans considered to be the core of their team; Argentine legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto, his fellow countryman Gino Padula, fan favorite Kiwi Duncan Oughton, and former US National Team defender and Columbus captain Frankie Hejduk.
While the moves did clean house to make way for younger, more athletic players, it put a hurt on ticket sales for the club. Less familiar faces, and some nasty weather early on in the season plummeted the Black & Gold to the second lowest average attendance in all of Major League Soccer for the 2011 season. The only club that brought in less spectators on average was the San Jose Earthquakes, with 11,858 (their home stadium has a capacity of 10,300).
The Crew went into the late summer 2011 on top of the Eastern Conference, but ended up on a slippery slope, losing 5 out of 6 matches in the span of one month, and backing into a wild card playoff position. While it was a franchise tying fourth consecutive playoff appearance for The Crew, they were eliminated by the Colorado Rapids for the second year in a row. It was a less than dramatic end to what was many saw as a middle-of-the-road season. Forward Jeff Cunningham did break the MLS career goal scoring record wearing a Columbus jersey, but lack of offensive production hampered the club’s success. They were the only outfit that made it into the playoffs with a negative goal differential at the season’s end.
2012 OFFSEASON MOVES
2012 has brought more changes. With respect to the exit, the front office parted ways with designated player Andres Mendoza, who despite being the teams leading goal scorer in 2011, was seen as a heel to many fans due to his perceived lack of work ethic, and indifferent attitude towards club supporters. “El Condor” has moved on to Atlante FC of the Mexican First Division. Also departing ways is US National team midfielder Robbie Rogers, who lead the club in assists last season with 7, but was seen as largely ineffective for a player of his supposed caliber. He has joined Leeds United, of Britain’s Football League Championship. Left back and MLS journeyman Josh Gardner was taken by expansion side Montreal Impact, and internationals Dejan Rusmir and Santiago Prim had their contract options declined, along with afore mentioned scoring legend Jeff Cunningham. Cunningham has since joined the ranks of Guatemalan side Communicaciones. Nigerian midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo has also declined a new contract with The Crew, and while no official word has been given of his current status, it seems he has moved on to Europe as well.
This winter Columbus’ front office has acted quickly to fulfill the team‘s needs. Most notably is Milovan Mirosevic, an attacking midfielder and former captain of Chilean powerhouse Universidad Catolica. At 31 years of age, Mirosevic is an experienced player who can bring an added scoring threat to the final third of the pitch. Also on the offensive side is the acquisition of Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas, who tallied 19 goals in 53 appearances with CS Herediano. Acquired in the MLS re-entry draft this past December is former New York Red Bulls center back Carlos Mendes. Like Mirosevic, he is also 31 years of age & brings a more experienced option that could possibly be paired with team captain Chad Marshall in the middle of the defense. Several picks were also acquired in the MLS Superdraft and Supplemental Draft. Most notably is their first pick; Ethan Finlay of Creighton, who scored 43 career goals, and was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy (the Heisman of college soccer). Listed as a forward, Finlay is also reportedly stellar as a wing player. Other Superdraft picks include Aubrey Perry (RCB, South Florida), and Kevan George (MF, Central Florida). Supplement draft picks included Kirk Urso (MF, North Carolina), Jamie Finch (D, Washington), Darren Amoo (FW, Liberty), who is the career leading goal scorer for Liberty, and Andrew Bulls (MF/FW Maryland-Baltimore County).
[Editor's Edit: The Crew hosted this video to get to know Ethan Finlay. You can also follow him on Twitter: @EthanFinlay16]
Two players who have grown up in the ranks of Columbus’ youth development academy were also extended contracts. Ben Speas (FW, North Carolina), originally from Stow, Ohio, was MVP of the 2011 College Cup, and was also part of three youth national championships with Columbus; Matt Lampson (GK, Ohio State) was signed to a multi-year contract, after ranking second on the all-time shut out list at Ohio State. Lampson is a native of Hilliard, Ohio.
With preseason training already underway, and the arrivals of Mirosevic and Vargas reported to be in the coming days, the final & largest piece of the puzzle it yet to be affixed in lineup of the Black & Gold. There is still no report of a designated player (the designated player rule allows MLS teams to count only a portion of a player’s income against the team’s salary cap, and is usually reserved for ‘star‘ players). It has been reported by team GM Mark McCullers that there is a fifty percent chance they will have to begin the 2012 season without a designated player. No names have been dropped, but rumors have indicated that a “well known” player could be secured for an attacking central midfield or forward role.
2012 TV RIGHTS AND FIRST GAME
Another change for the 2012 season is how fans will be watching on TV. NBC announced in 2011 that they will be televising 3 regular season MLS matches, while the NBC Sports Network will televise 38, and the ESPN family of networks are also scheduled to air 31 matches. Regionally, The Crew have partnered with Fox Sports Ohio to carry non-nationally televised games, leaving behind ONN, The Crew’s previous regional broadcaster, and carrier of the weekly information & interview feature, “Crew Xtra“.
Columbus kicks off the 2012 season on Saturday, March 10, at 6:00pm EST, on the road, against the club that ended their last two seasons: the Colorado Rapids. After a two week break, the home opener will feature The Crew hosting MLS newcomers, the Montreal Impact on Saturday, March 24th, 4:00pm EST at Crew Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio, USA.