2012 MLS record: 15-12-7 GD: 0 (6th in East, Missed Playoffs)
Additions: Drew Beckie, Chad Barson, Ryan Finley, Gláuber, Dominic Oduro, Matías Sánchez, Wil Trapp, Agustín Viana, Tyson Wahl
Losses: Chris Birchall, Rich Balchan, Dilly Duka, Cole Grossman, Tommy Heinemann, William Hesmer, Julius James, Carlos Mendes, Sebastián Miranda, Olman Vargas, Nemanja Vukovic
Projected starting XI 4-2-3-1: Gruenebaum; Wahl, Glauber, Marshall, Williams; Gaven, Viana, Sanchez, Oduro, Higuain, Arrieta
Bold prediction: The new and returning mesh quickly and Crew make a run to the top of the conference and make a deep run to the playoffs.
Biggest fear: One or more new pickups fail to secure a spot and the staff scrambles to patch holes. The team struggles towards the bottom of the conference.
Bonus secret biggest fear: Higuain picks up a long term injury.
The Crew fixed their offensive struggles last year with the addition of Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain in midseason. The Crew started scoring goals, but the defense slumped and the team missed the playoffs by one point. The offseason task was to fix the broken defense. 11 players left and the team brought in new pieces in midfield and on the backline.
At the very back, Andy Grunebaum had a stellar 2012 in place of the injured William Hesmer and the starting goalkeeper spot is his alone in 2013. He stopped a league high 124 shots and garnered votes for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year. The team is expecting another stellar season as he will be tasked of managing rebuilt defense.
The defense will have two new starters from last year. Chad Marshall returns, looking to rebound from a season he struggled to play his best. He's fitter and sharper after ankle surgery and a more strenuous workout program in the offseason. The other returning starter is 24 year old Josh Williams. He played all over the back line in 2012, but is now has a set position as the team's first choice at right back after the steady Sebastian Miranda was not retained.
The question marks are how league veteran Tyson Wahl and Brazilian import Glauber settle into their starting roles. Glauber will pair with Marshall in the heart of the defense with Wahl taking over at left back. Both have been inconsistent in preseason. Crew faithful hope to chalk that up to the meshing process that takes time.
The team doesn't have a lot of proven options to replace either if struggle. Agustin Viana can play at left back, but he's pegged as a starter at defensive midfield. Rookie Drew Beckie has impressed and seen time along the backline. He might get an early season chance if injury or struggles present an opportunity.
Shifting to midfield, the Crew will again have plenty of new faces. Viana has paired with Argentine signing Matias Sanchez in central midfield in preseason, but Danny O'Rourke has also seen time with Viana. No pairing had substantial time to get acquainted and the dual nature of screening the defense while connecting the attack requires holding players have a level of familiarity. That takes time.
The offense should be on better footing. The big three attackers return. Eddie Gaven, Higuain, and Arrieta quickly formed chemistry and the offense flourished. Arrieta and Higuain are back for a full season and are joined by the speedy Dominic Oduro on the right.
Attention centers on Higuain. He has been designated the captain of the team during most preseason matches and showed that he's ready to lead the team on the field in just about every interview or comment he's made. He's also been at the center of most of the Crew's attacking moves. His right foot is dangerous on set pieces. With so many targets; no team wants to give the Black and Gold a free or corner kick.
Arrieta and Gaven are his partners in crime. Gaven had a career high nine goals, but will be playing on the left side of midfield now. He's at home cutting into the center and linking up with Higuain. Arrieta also got nine goals in limited time with the team. He's the first choice at striker, but his play has attracted the attention of his home country and he's forced his way into a strong striker corps. With nine more World Cup Qualifiers in 2013, Arrieta could miss significant time.
The last of five new starters is a league veteran. Dominic Oduro came from Chicago; traded for Dilly Duka. The speed burner lost his starting spot in 2012 and was clear he wanted to start. He will get that chance with Columbus. He'll be posted on the right wing, not quite an attacking wing forward, but also not a traditional two way winger. He has the speed to get behind the defense; he will have plenty of chances with Higuain pulling the strings.
The team, again, doesn't have an extensive proven veteran option off the bench to replace any of the team's offensive cogs. Rookie Ryan Finley has come in relief of Arrieta and started for him when he was out on national team duty. They are similar style of player, looking to break off the last defender and beat the trap. Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram are hungry to get minutes after seeing some action in 2012. Finlay had an excellent preseason and has seen time on the left and right. Meram lost his hold on the left wing position to Duka last year and will have to try and beat out Finlay and Finley for time on the wing or at forward.
With so many changes, it will take time for the team to coalesce. Preseason was to decide on two new defenders, orchestrating a revamped central midfield, and finding the right piece on the wing. Now, with the regular season on Saturday, all the pieces matter. They will all have to work in unison. Chivas USA is that first test.