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.”
William Hesmer is the Crew’s all-time leader in nearly every goalkeeping category and was the starter on the 2008 MLS Cup championship team, but a preseason surgery for a persistent hip injury ended his year before it even began. In his absence, long-time backup Andy Gruenebaum shined. There are rumors of Hesmer retiring early and taking up a job in the finance world, but, if he wishes, Hesmer may still have a few good years of soccer left in him. However, the Crew already have an goalie understudy in Matt Lampson, so keeping Hesmer and his salary was too much of a financial burden.
If the Crew do re-sign any of the seven who were recently cut, the fans are clamoring most for Sebastian Miranda, Rich Balchan, and Chris Birchall. Miranda has been one of the team’s starting fullbacks for all but one game in the past two seasons. His presence on the right side of the field has been a constant, and his chemistry with Eddie Gaven has improved with every game. While not the fastest, Miranda is definitely an above average defender in MLS. If the Crew do not re-sign him, they will have no natural fullbacks left on their roster, as left-back Nemanja Vukovic was one of the three cut last week.
Rich Balchan is the young version of Danny O’Rourke. He can fill in at defensive midfield or anywhere across the back line, being especially proficient at either fullback spot. In his rookie campaign of 2011, Balchan started eighteen games, but he missed the entire 2012 season due to multiple surgeries needed to fix a sports hernia injury. Balchan returned to training at the end of the season and is now hopefully on his way to a full recovery. If they do manage to re-sign him, the Crew will keep a young and valuable asset to their now decimated defensive corps. However, Balchan tweeted this yesterday afternoon as the news of the cuts was released:
Chris Birchall is a scrappy, veteran midfielder. He may not necessarily look the part, but he will fight for every ball in the middle of the field and is also serviceable on the right wing. Birchall started eighteen games this season and picked up a goal and two assists. He provides a slightly more calming presence in the center of the park than the Crew’s younger options, although Birchall is only 28 years old himself.
Columbus also announced yesterday that they had exercised the option on ten players, taking their current roster count to seventeen (seven players were already under contract for 2013). The ten players now remaining with the team are goalies Andy Gruenebaum and Matt Lampson; defenders Josh Williams and Eric Gehrig; midfielders Dilly Duka, Bernardo Anor, Kevan George, and Ethan Finlay; and forwards Justin Meram and Aaron Schoenfeld. The Crew’s current roster is as follows:
Goalies (2): Andy Gruenebaum, Matt Lampson
Defenders (3): Eric Gehrig, Chad Marshall, Josh Williams
Midfielders (6): Bernardo Anor, Dilly Duka, Ethan Finlay, Eddie Gaven, Kevan George, Milovan Mirosevic
Forwards (6): Jairo Arrieta, Federico Higuaín, Aaron Horton, Justin Meram, Aaron Schoenfeld, Ben Speas
Also out of contract are defenders Danny O’Rourke and Carlos Mendes, as well as forward Emilio Renteria. According to the Crew, contracts will be offered to all three players with hopes of them all returning for 2013.
While the cuts do open up quite a bit of cap space and more than enough roster spots, it is always a sad day when players from your team move on with their careers, especially ones who you feel still have a lot to offer.