This past Monday, the Columbus Crew re-signed veteran midfielder and Columbus, Ohio, native Danny O’Rourke. O’Rourke has been a member of the Crew since 2007. He was a starting defender on the 2008 team that won both the MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. In 2009, O’Rourke was named the Most Valuable Player by the team.
O’Rourke can play anywhere along the back line, but his best spot is the defensive midfielder position. There, his athleticism and aggressiveness serve him best. O’Rourke is known around the league for his harsh challenges. He has been issued 35 yellow and 6 red cards during his 8 years in MLS. O’Rourke is arguably the only player on the Crew roster who can hold down the middle of the field by himself. Despite battling injuries the past three seasons, his versatility, leadership, and assertive play make him an important part of Columbus’ team. When healthy, O’Rourke is almost guaranteed a spot in the starting XI.
Another virtually guaranteed situation is the Homegrown signing of Chad Barson. Barson was a member of the 2008 U-18 Crew Academy national third-place team. He has also appeared on the U.S. U-15, U-17, and U-18 national teams.
Despite the Crew making no official announcement yet, the signing was widely reported on Twitter this past Thursday. Current Columbus player and fellow Homegrown signee Aaron Horton tweeted, “Yessss great to be teammates again with my bro Chad Barson!!!!” Horton and Barson both attended Olentangy High School for two years. Soccer by Ives also reported that the deal was a Generation Adidas deal:
It has been another highly active offseason for the roster of the Columbus Crew.
Midfielder Chris Birchall, whose contract option was declined at the end of this year, took his name out of the MLS Re-Entry Draft to return to his native England. Birchall started 18 games this past season, recording 1 goal and 2 assists. A scrappy midfielder, both Birchall’s veteran presence and ability to fill in on the right wing will be missed. I wish him luck wherever his career may take him.
Tony Tchani, a midfielder with a lot of potential and raw athleticism but not much to show for it, was re-signed by the Crew last week. Tchani is only 23 years old, and the verdict is still out on him. He just completed his third MLS season, playing in 22 games and picking up 2 goals and 2 assists.
By far the shallowest position on the Crew’s current roster is defense. Carlos Mendes, who joined Columbus before the 2012 season and started 12 games, is another defender that will not be back next year. Mendes, a native of Long Island, joined the New York Cosmos on Tuesday afternoon, primarily for family reasons. Mendes’ first seven MLS seasons were with the New York Red Bulls, and his family still presides in the city. The New York Cosmos will be joining the NASL (second division) in the fall of 2013.
The Columbus Crew are getting an early start to their offseason duties. Already gone are ten players and, now, the Crew are lining up preseason games in preparation for 2013.
Today, the team announced their participation in the Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic that will run from February 9-23 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida. The Crew played three preseason games in Florida last February at the IMG Sports Academy in Brandenton with varied success.
Along with Columbus, the MLS sides of D.C. United, Sporting Kansas City, Montreal Impact, Toronto FC, and Philadelphia Union will do battle with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL (second division) and Orlando City FC of the USL Pro (third division).
Although the 2012 MLS Cup champion is still yet to be determined, that has not stopped the Columbus Crew from already reshuffling their roster for next year.
Yesterday, the Crew declined the contract option on seven players, bringing their short offseason cut total to ten after Cole Grossman, Nemanja Vukovic, and Olman Vargas were released last week.
Included in those seven cut were goalie William Hesmer; defenders Julius James, Rich Balchan, and Sebastian Miranda; midfielders Tony Tchani and Chris Birchall; and forward Tommy Heinemann.
The Crew can still negotiate new contracts with any of these players, yet do not expect too many, if any at all, to come back. Crew Technical Director Brian Bliss said, “While we’ve declined options on a number of players, we will continue conversations with some of those individuals to potentially return to the club.”
Columbus Crew midfielder Federico Higuaín was named MLS Newcomer of the Year yesterday despite only joining the league during the second half of the season.
Higuaín was signed from Colón in Argentina as the Crew’s third Designated Player back in July. He made his debut in Houston on August 22nd, coming on as a substitute and picking up an assist as he helped the Crew to a 2-2 tie.
In the next four games, Higuaín scored three goals and dished out five assists, earning him back-to-back MLS Player of the Week honors. Higuaín lead the team to a 4-0-1 record during that span, greatly increasing their odds of making the playoffs. A minor toe injury derailed both his momentum and the team’s, but the little magician still ended the year with five goals and a team-high seven assists in only thirteen games.
On Monday, the Columbus Crew released midfielder Cole Grossman, defender Nemanja Vukovic, and forward Olman Vargas.
All three players were made available in the MLS Waiver Draft that afternoon. Grossman was selected by Real Salt Lake, the only player picked out of 42 in the entire draft. It should be noted that midfielder Konrad Warzycha, Robert Warzycha’s son and a former Ohio State palyer, was also released by Sporting Kansas City. The players available in the Waiver Draft are not eligible to be picked in December’s Re-Entry Draft.
Nemanja Vukovic quickly became the Crew’s starting left-back after the year began. In fact, the team released their only other natural left-back Shaun Francis midway through the season. Vukovic provided steady defensive coverage while being an above average crosser and set piece taker, chiming in with three assists in only fifteen games. However, he eventually lost his spot to Josh Williams, who, while an okay player at left-back, was an absolute animal in the center of defense and should have stayed there.
Olman Vargas was signed before the season with hopes of becoming the Crew’s next great target forward. He showed rather well in some early season scrimmages, scoring a few goals with his head. Vargas began the year as a starter and scored in the first game, but that was his only goal in eleven appearances, as he later lost out to an ankle injury and newcomer Jairo Arrieta as the season wound on.
With another Columbus Crew season in the books, it is time for Be Massive Soccer’s 2012 Awards.
I did an article featuring these same categories halfway through the year, which you can find here. At that point in time, Jairo Arrieta had only made one appearance with the team, and Federico Higuain was still over a month away from getting his first minutes. Once they got on the field, what a difference these two players made! Together, they gave Columbus a constantly dangerous attack for the entirety of the game, with Arrieta chasing down everything and Higuain providing the creative magic to cut through any defense.
The Crew also held their own awards ceremony a few weeks ago, including winners in a few different categories.
I present to you, Be Massive Soccer’s 2012 Crew Awards:
Rookie of the Year: Ethan Finlay
Finlay made the most appearances this season out of all the Crew’s rookies with fifteen. Although usually used as a substitute, Finlay proved his flexibility, starting the season as a speedy forward/winger and ending it as a backup full back. Once he polishes his final product a tad bit more, Finlay could be quite the utility player, especially during the end of games against tired defenses.
Mid-season winner: Ethan Finlay
I did not head to Columbus Crew stadium on Sunday afternoon with much excitement. The temperature was the coldest it had been since last winter, and a constant drizzle only made it worse. The Crew had already been mathematically knocked out of the postseason, and they were facing the worst team in MLS, Toronto FC (whom they had already defeated twice during the year to clinch the Trillium Cup).
I left the stadium with slightly higher hopes. A brace from mid-season acquisition Federico Higuain secured a 2-1 victory for Columbus in their last game of the year. Higuain’s first came in the 17th minute after a beautiful cutback move to his left foot. His finish was pure class. Toronto equalized ten minutes later, but Higuain drew a penalty in the second half before tucking the spot kick away into the left corner, ending the year on a rather good note for not making the playoffs.
To the 2012 season:
It was cold. It was rainy. And it could have been a lot worse if not for Federico Higuain. The Argentinian playmaker’s two goals paved the way for Columbus at home on Sunday afternoon, as the Crew downed Toronto in the last game of the season, 2-1. The win completed Columbus’ three-game regular season sweep of Toronto.
The three points brought the Crew’s season total to 52 (15-12-7), just one point out of the playoffs. Toronto finished dead last in MLS with only 23 points (5-21-8).
Head coach Robert Warzycha made a few changes to the Crew’s starting lineup. Eric Gehrig started in center defense for the injured Chad Marshall. Tony Tchani started in the middle, while Ben Speas got his first ever MLS minutes with a start on the left wing in Columbus’ 4-2-3-1 formation. Toronto lined up in a 4-4-2.
The Columbus Crew are ending their season with what is ultimately an insignificant game for the first time since 2008. Yes, Sunday afternoon’s game against Toronto FC is the last of the Trillium Cup games this year (the trophy given to the team with the better record against the other during the season), but that will be the last time the Crew see the field in 2012.
Last week’s 3-2 loss in D.C. officially knocked Columbus out of the playoff race. They have 49 points on the year (14-12-7), four behind the last playoff spot in the East.
Toronto, on the other hand, has been out of the postseason chase for awhile. They are in last place in MLS by six points with only 23 on the year (5-20-8). Toronto’s most recent game was a 1-0 away loss on Wednesday to Santos Laguna in the CONCACAF Champions League, effectively knocking them out of the competition.