Much has been said about the Columbus Crew Sporting Director/Head Coach Gregg Berhalters's plans for the squad this year. Players have expressed that they have a clear view of where they fit in the Crew's program, which could lead to more individual creativity on the field and even better results. So far, part of the SDHC's plan has been revealed in his match day lineups. Just six games into the season, one can assign players into five groups: The Starters, The 18ers, The Healthy Scratchers, The Injured and The Dayton Dutchers.
|Dayton Dutch Lions||
While the categories mentioned above have been very stable through this point in the season, that is about to change.
- Bernardo Anor has just likely earned himself a 2-game holiday without pay. First with a flying elbow, and then with a 2-footed Frankie special late in the game against DC, Nard Dog will not be occupying the Left Mid anytime soon.
- Giancarlo Gonzalez, Jairo Arrieta and Michael Parkhurst are all reasonable candidates to represent their respective nation in the World Cup. They would leave the Crew in mid-May, which is only about three weeks away. Each of these "Starters" would miss at least 6 matches in May and June. Hopefully Parkhurst misses even more.
- The not-dead-yet, getting-better duo of Matt Wiet and Daniel Paladini have been practicing with the team for the last few weeks. While Paladini aims to challenge Tony Tchani for his starting role, Wiet's situation is more impactful, as the Crew are already at a full 30 count on their roster. Should they decide to take Wiet off Injured Reserve, someone currently in the 30 would have to go. Would "go" mean simply to be cut/re-signed by Dayton, knowing that means they couldn't feature for the Crew? Maybe. Sold to another team for cash money? Also possible. Something will happen, and I'd guess it happens in May.
- Speculative Bonus Point: Oduro's lack of production. I'm starting to wonder if a pizza-centric diet may not in fact be the secret to success for professional athletes. With no goals or assists in 5 games playing up top, one has to wonder if we don't soon see him back in a role as a wing Midfielder or even coming off the bench. Someone as fast as Papa Dom would be a nightmare for a Defender who's just put 70 minutes in chasing the Crew's possession-heavy style, but 250,000 smackers is a lot to pay a sub.
Anor's red card will force the SDHC's hand immediately. The aforementioned move of Oduro back to a Midfielder role could make room for Arrieta's return to the lineup, which would keep the "Starters" fraternity intact for another week or two.
But that's not that much fun to write about. What about all the other changes and the jostling for spots on the 18 and whatnot? Here's my wider take:
|Starter Out||Replacement Starter||Moves to 18ers|
|Anor||Arrieta||No one; Arrieta already in "Starter" group.|
|Parkhurst, Gonzalez||Barson/Gehrig/Wahl - 2 of these 3
If G3 wants to keep Williams in his role as RB, he could line Wahl and Gehrig up side by side in Central Defense. However, if Williams goes to the middle that allows Barson, already an 18er, to take the field.
J9 has actually seen action as a sub in every single match, often being the first selection off the bench. Having taken 6 shots in just 86 minutes of play, he's creating chances at a high rate. And sometimes he puts away teams in stoppage time.
Rust Protection and Head Games
With MLS' elimination of the reserve league, the Crew have had to get creative in trying keep all 30 roster players in game-level sharpness. Two weeks ago a scrimmage against the University of Louisville was played on a Sunday, featuring many players from the "18ers" and "Healthy Scratchers" above. Normally starting in late May, the U.S. Open Cup will offer a chance for some of the eight players who haven't yet seen a minute of playing time to suit up and compete in meaningful games.
But without getting too mushy on everyone, how are these guys feeling? This new format challenges not only the organization, but the mental toughness of many players caught in no-man's land; not a fit to play in Dayton, but not getting into games. Barson, Viana and Speas all played in at least 19 of the Crew's 34 regular season games last year. Tyson Wahl started 24 games. In comes the "New Crew", and so far these players are on the outside looking in. Will they be ready to serve when their numbers are called upon? I remember being the 9th guy on a 9-man basketball team at age 12. I only got on the court 19 times over our 35 games. I wanted to burn down the coach's house! Granted, these Crew players are infinitely more mature than I was at that point, but the fact remains - being benched hurts. Those who are able to best deal with the quiet rage of being an 18er or a Healthy Scratcher will likely be rewarded in the coming months.