Columbus Crew make tough decisions as the roster comes together

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Crew continue to prepare for the 2014 season, aiming to get their roster in order before the March 1 deadline.

Preseason is the most difficult time of the year. Players work tirelessly to prepare themselves for the grind of the season. Coaches have to evaluate the players in camp and make a decision on each player that could affect their career.

"It's the worst part of the job," Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter said of having to cut players during preseason. "You've heard me say that before and I honestly believe that.

"These are guys that put in three weeks of really good effort and you have to tell them that they're not part of it anymore and that's not easy."

As my colleague Patrick Guldan reported last Friday, the Crew cut Konrad Warzycha and Shawn Sloan, but with attrition comes the happiness of new signings.

"We also signed today Fifi Baiden and Ben Sweat, so they're officially signed," Berhalter said.

Sweat, selected with the 14th pick in the MLS SuperDraft, is  a left back out of the University of South Florida. He is the school's all-time appearance leader with 78 and was first team all-conference his senior season.

Baiden is a holding midfielder out of the University of California Santa Barbara and was drafted 42nd overall. He played in 76 games in his four years in college and was a preseason All American his senior season.

Both players are happy to begin their professional careers with the Black and Gold.

"Obviously super exciting for me," Sweat said of signing a professional contract. "I think I came into MLS at a great time, with a great team with an all new coaching staff and all new players, so I'm really excited to get started this season."

Baiden echoed his new teammate's sentiments.

"Man, it feels great," he said. "This is what I've been working for my whole life and it's like a dream come true for me."

Despite being the first two players drafted by the Crew this season, both had to work hard to impress their new coach and secure contracts.

"They've been good," Berhalter said of the two new signees in camp.

"Fifi's been a warrior out there in training, working really hard. I thought he did well against Malmo... he's just been the guy we thought he was."

"With Ben, we see a lot of potential in him and he's going to be a good player."

Both players wanted to show how hard they are willing to work to make their dreams come true in the first three weeks of preseason and prove that they belong in MLS and in Columbus.

Now that they've made the team, the hard work doesn't end. Berhalter said he believes both players could see the field this year, but only if they demonstrate they are the best option at their position.

Sweat will be battling with fellow new signing Waylon Francis and Augustin Viana at left back. Tyson Wahl - who Berhalter has said the staff sees as a center back - could also see time out wide, as well as Chad Barson, who switched from the right to the left at points last season.

Sweat believes his athleticism and ability to get forward will benefit him.

"It's exactly the system I want to be in," he said. "I'm able to be up the field, but not have to worry about recovering back 80 yards if we lose the ball, a central midfielder can drop in."

Baiden will be in completion with several teammates for two spots in a crowded central midfield, but he said he knew it would be tough to even make the team.

"I knew it was going to be competitive, it was going to be tough," he said. "I checked the roster and [the Crew] already had 29 people signed and five people coming in to get a roster spot."

Baiden achieved the goal of making the team and his hard work will be something that helps him going forward.

The Crew is now training in Orlando as part of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic and the coaches have until March 1 to get their final 30-man roster before the regular season kicks off March 8 at D.C. United.

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