The 23rd season of our infinity years of Columbus Crew soccer is finally set to kick off this weekend!!! As the first game of the year is a road game, it’s Crewsgiving everybody!!! Time to grab your black and gold gear, your #SaveTheCrew scarf, and a bottle of Wild Turkey and celebrate this new year (a continuation of many to come)!!!
The season kicks off in Toronto as the greatest team the world has ever seen take on the 2017 MLS Cup champions, Saturday March 3, at 1pm. The supporters groups of the Nordecke will be doing our thing at our respective home bars this weekend. You’ll find Hudson Street at Hendocs Pub, Murders’ Row and GCGBAGS at Endeavor Brewing [LINK], and Crew Union at 4th Street Bar and Grill [LINK]. So come on out and enjoy Crewsgiving with your fellow supporters.
And what is Crewsgiving without something great kicking off in our community? GCGBAG and #SaveTheCrew is working with CRIS (Community Refugee & Immigration Services), an independent non-profit organization that serves the new American population in Central Ohio, to welcome our new neighbors to the community and the Crew. If you want to help contribute tickets to the program you just need to follow three simple steps:
Follow this LINK to purchase tickets in section 115
Use Ticketmaster’s transfer tickets to transfer the tickets to Jeremy Hollon at jhollon[at]cris-ohio.org
Stop by the Megatailate and have fun with your new friends
Now on to the team…
Columbus is coming into the 2018 year hot, annihilating all competition at the Carolina Challenge Cup en route to their second straight cup win in the preseason tournament. While we lost two huge contributors to last year’s team in Justin Merem and Ola Kamara, the Black and Gold just seemed to restock with more talent.
The key addition to the club is of course Gyasi Zardes who came to the Crew from LA via the Ola Kamara trade. The expectation is that he can come in and replace Ola’s production at forward which is a tall task. His last few years in MLS haven’t been great splitting time between forward and the wing, but head coach Gregg Berhalter seems to have brought out the best in him playing exclusively as a striker in preseason with 6 goals in 7 matches. While Ola had exceptional awareness and ability to pop up in the right spot at the right time, Zardes brings a more physical presence to the front line. Zardes’ combination of speed, height, and skill is not something the Crew has seen at the forward position for awhile. With the way Columbus like to get their fullbacks forward and get crosses in the box, it will be nice to have a forward that can truly take advantage of that.
Speaking of fullbacks, the other key new addition is young DP Milton Valenzuela at left back. Harrison Afful owns the right side and has since his arrival mid-season 2015. If the preseason is any indication, Afful will continue that dominance. The other side, though, has been a bit of a mystery the last couple of years. After two outstanding years, choice left back Wylan Francis was inconsistent the last two mostly due to injuries. Jukka Raitala, brought in last year, never seemed to fit in to Berhalter’s style of play. Eventually Berhalter just settled for his Swiss Army knife, Hector Jimenez. While Jimenez will put in a good shift no matter where he’s placed, he’s not the ideal. So in comes Valenzuela who the Crew paid a pretty penny for. From preseason results, he’s everything Berhalter could have hoped for. With balance on the left and right and a forward to take advantage, Gregg may finally have the 11 he’s been looking for.
However, like all seasons for the past 5, our fate lies on the foot of playmaker Federico Higuain. Pipa is one of the best players in this league without question. Where he leads, the Crew follow. Pipa is another player that has had a tremendous off season and just looks poised for another good year. What might be different this year is the Argentine might have some help in the playmaking role that could help save Higuain’s legs for games later in the year. 21 year old Venezuelan attacking midfielder Eduardo Sosa joins the club with Copa Libertadores experience under his belt. Sosa showed his quality in a preseason game against Japanese side Iwaki FC splitting their defense with cutting passes time after time. If he can show any of that vision against MLS teams, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field.
Of course the Crew do have question marks. With Merem gone will Pedro Santos pick up the considerable slack in production on the wing? Sanch joined the Crew as a DP mid-season and combined well with teammates, but the Black and Gold need goals from him.
The Crew have a talented staple of holding midfielders with Wil Trapp, Artur, Ricardo Clark, and Mohammed Abu. However, there needs to be some kind of offensive participation and production out of this group to really step up to the next level.
With Santos seemingly moving to the left, who will take over the other wing spot? Early indications is it will be Christian Martinez. The young Panamanian has shown promise in limited minutes over his two years, but he needs to take a huge leap forward to secure the starters role. The wild card is Mike Grella once he gains game fitness. He was one of NYRB’s best players that consistently produced when healthy. Rookies Edward Opoku and Luis Argudo showed flashes in the preseason, as did Niko Hansen before going down with injury in Hawaii.
After Zardes, is there enough depth at forward? The Crew seemed to skate by last year with Kamara starting most games and Adam Jahn getting the occasional minutes, but if Zardes falters or gets injured this year, who on the roster could fill the void?
Then there is what seems to be the perennial question under Berhalter, will the defense hold up? The system the team plays is demanding, especially so on central defenders, and often puts the back line under pressure. It isn’t helped with the occasional bad passing decisions from defenders and midfielders trying to play out of the back under pressure leading to turn overs in bad spots. The team still looks a little shaky any time a team really presses them. Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams seemed to form a good pairing in central defense toward the end of the year, can they continue that good run and improve? When healthy, Gaston Sauro bolstered a leaky back line to an MLS Cup appearance in 2015. Calm and cool on and off the ball, rarely putting a wrong foot forward, he was the perfect central defender for this system. If he can regain his form, he would be a valuable asset for the Crew. Lalas Abubaker and Alex Crognale are both solid young defenders capable of stepping in when needed.
I feel like I’m missing something…oh yeah…We have the best goalkeeper in the entire United States on our side and he’s tight friends with the posts. Need I say anymore?
So where does that leave us? It’s going to be a good year and we are absolutely going to #SaveTheCrew. TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW!!!!