Columbus Crew Begin Off-Season

By Grey Beaudin
Dec 6, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter at a press conference after the 2015 MLS Cup championship game at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 6, 2015; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter at a press conference after the 2015 MLS Cup championship game at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports /

Columbus Crew maintain the core of the 2015 team. How will they make changes to prepare for 2016 campaign?

The MLS off-season officially began for the Columbus Crew after their defeat in the MLS Cup final. The Crew wasted no time announcing that they are holding on to “the core” of their team, but what additional changes need to be made in order to ensure that Columbus remain an Eastern Conference power? Look no further than the first ever group of MLS free agents.

Columbus Crew Communications explained the moves that the club have already made, and outlined the current roster. The Crew exercised contract options on Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, Michael Parkhurst, Justin Meram and Wil Trapp. They represent five of the eleven starters in the MLS Cup final. The other six starters were already under contract for the upcoming season.

Along with their starting lineup, the Crew currently have ten other players who round out the bench. Their roster breakdown includes two goalkeepers, eight defenders, ten midfielders and one forward. The Crew are also still in contract discussions with midfielder, Kevan George and forwards, Jack McInerney and Aaron Schoenfeld.

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The situation at the forward position requires the most attention. The Crew played most of last season with one forward, Kei Kamara. Kamara was often called upon to use his physicality to hold the ball so that wingers, Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram could join the attack. Kamara was absolutely dominant this past season, scoring 22 goals and contributing eight assists. Kamara continued his dominant run of play in the post-season and almost led the Crew from behind in the MLS Cup final.

Kamara is 31 years of age and has already stated that he would have retired had the Crew won the championship. Kamara had a career season and would have been able to ride off into the sunset if the Crew secured the MLS Cup victory. Kamara then went on to say that he will retire after he has won something.

Kamara is coming off a superb season but the Crew need to secure additional offensive threats at the forward position. Jack McInerney was brought on midway through last season and provided a spark off the bench. Aaron Schoenfeld is six foot four and brings a strong physical presence to the forward position. McInerney is 23 and Schoenfeld is 25. Both players bring youthful energy to the table and should be considered seriously by the Crew.

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The Crew can also consider the crop of forwards available via free agency. After restructuring the collective bargaining agreement, the MLS will experience its first ever period of free agency this winter. All of the forwards available bring experience after playing in the league for many years.

The potential candidates are Chad Barrett, Edson Buddle, Conor Casey, Kenny Cooper, Alan Gordon and Mike Magee. Each of the six players are MLS veterans and would bring valuable experience to the Crew. All but Kenny Cooper have won an MLS Cup during their career. Conor Casey was selected as the man of the match in the 2010 Cup final.

Aside from Magee, each of the available free agents provide strong aerial ability, which is important seeing how the Crew use the flanks in their build-ups. Depending how negotiations go with McInerney and Schoenfeld, the Crew can look to free agency to help bolster their attack.

The Crew have one of the best starting eleven in the MLS. Management has already ensured that the core of their roster will remain. That being said, the Crew could have used additional roster depth in the MLS Cup final. Head Coach, Gregg Berhalter should look to the veteran crop of free agent forwards to bolster the Crew attack in 2016.