Well, the 2012 Columbus Crew season is FINALLY over. What? The season ended when the Crew beat Toronto FC 2-1 and missed the playoffs? Not quite. The season churns on as post-season practices, interviews and evaluations are completed. The results, however, sometimes take a while to be known.
If you are a regular follower of Massive Report on Facebook and Twitter, you would have been alerted to the fantastic 2012 Crew player profiles and analysis presented by the esteemed Patrick Guldan. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed reading those profile, as much as I had some reservations with his results. Because we are a website by fans and for fans, and we as staff do have varying opinions, I present you with my analysis of the 2012 roster and some views regarding attrition for the 2013 season.
These thoughts are my own. I have no insider information for anyone. Though some of these thoughts seem to be no brainers, this is the Crew's front office making the decisions and they may see things a bit differently.
There is no "Expansion Draft" this year, meaning that the Crew will not be losing any players to scavenging expansion teams as in (many years past). With a 30 man roster, the team likely will be cutting or declining options of 7-10 players or more to make room for 2013 Super Draft picks, re-entry pickups, trialists, home grown talent, and possibly International spots. The evaluation will be in alphabetical order with all the players on the roster mentioned. Salaries will be in consideration. Patrick has graded his profiles on a 1-10 scale; my grading will be on the likelihood of the player remaining with the team or getting cut (Staying/ Likely Staying/ Likely Cut/ Gone).
Bernardo Anor (Likely Staying) Anor has quite a bit of ability and skill. Sadly, his consistency was an issue all year. In the ever going left back experiment by head coach Robert Warzycha, Anor seemed to do well in using his speed and skill to provide defensive support, but more importantly in Warzycha's eyes, offensive support coming from the back. Anor's progress at left back came to a screeching halt when he was involved in a nasty tackle by Sporting KC's Kai Kamara resulting in a season ending torn ACL surgery.
Anor is a young player with plenty of upside. Results of his recovery may be the ultimate decision maker, but at a 44K annual salary, I would keep him.
Jairo Arrieta (Staying) Oh, I don't hear people talking about Andreas Mendoza'a escapades anymore; we must have found us a goal scorer. Yeah, exactly what I though. Not only can Arrieta score, he actually knows how to use BOTH feet, given proper support (see Higuain + Gaven) he can also assist and make his own shots. Arrieta possesses skill, speed, technical vision and accuracy of shot. He is our new Alejandro Moreno without the flopping.
Arrieta is a GOOD locker room guy, unlike a certain former pacifier toting designated player. Signing Arrieta was a brilliant move by the coaching staff and Front Office. I believe that he has two fully guaranteed years on his contract before the customary team options kick in. Looking forward to what he can do in 2013.
Rich Balchan (Likely Staying) It was a 2012 full of injuries for Balchan. Yet, all signs indicate that he will be full go when preseason preparations start. Balchan was an effective member of the 2011 team playing in various position including left back and defensive midfielder. Balchan was a highly touted player coming out of college in the 2011 draft and he was able to hold his own in the pros when called upon.
With all the issues and experiments that Warzycha has tried at left back and even the midfield, I can't see Balchan getting cut. Being able to play multiple defensive and midfielder positions and having shown an ability to be a good cog in the machine is most credited to Balchan staying and being vital to the 2013 roster.
Chis Birchall (Likely Staying) The Englishman had a bit of an up and down year. Birchall took some time to adjust to Warzychas's tactics, but then showed some brilliance towards the end of the season even though he was playing on the outside as opposed to the middle. Birchall has a very powerful shot, but it's of the Emilio brand sometimes.
Birchall stays mainly for his experience and leadership. Along with Danny O'Roarke, the due forms a steady presence in the midfield. Though their playing styles are different, if either one of them goes down, the other is able to fill in.
Dilly Duka (Likely Cut) This season could be definitely described as disappointing and disastrous for Duka. Coming off a fantastic off-season in which he played with the U.S. U-23 and was even named captain at some point, his regular season was nothing to write home about. Injuries and re-injuries cause Duka to miss a lot of playing time. Eventually, Duka got a return to the starting lineup, but Warzycha had his name engraved on the first substitution hook in almost every game. Eventually Duke snapped in one form or the other and took some time away from the team to attend to personal matters at home. He didn't get any meaningful minute from that point forward
I actually don't see Duka getting cut. I do, however see him getting traded to another MLS team for a solid wing defender or draft picks. At 243K in total compensation, and not the best attitude (though better than Mendoza, but really, who isn't?) I don't see him being in Columbus long term. This is disappointing to me because I really thought that he would be a fantastic player for this team when he got drafted, but I now see him getting passed on the depth chart for some newer player.
Ethan Finlay (Likely Staying) Speed, skill, hard work, young and overall CHEAP (from a $$$ stand point) Finley got to be a late substitute earlier in the year, but was sidelined by injuries that knocked him down the charts a little. You can call me crazy, but I can totally see Finley and Ben Speas being the future wingers of this team down the road. The ability to play in the midfield and forward positions allows his the flexibility to come in relief of almost anyone.
Finley has also been slotted in the left back position several times this year during practices and reserve games. Should he excel in that position, there is no reason to see why he would get released.
Eddie Gaven (Staying) There are no words needed here. The man has had a career year and is poised for an even better 2013 with a full compliment of games playing with Arrieta and Higuaen. If I were the Crew, I would stock up on Holy Water and make sure Gaven bathes in it at least twice a day.
Eric Gehrig (Likely Staying) I really don't know why some people don't like this kid. Yeah, he is not the fastest or most skilled out there, but he plays with a lot of passion and heart. The Crew's reserve squad has won back-to-back reserve league titles with him playing as a central defender.
Gehrig puts 100% effort on the field and has shown so repeatedly when called upon. Yes, he will make mistakes, but who doesn't? As thin as the back line is right now, keeping him should not be a hard decision especially at his salary number.
George Kevan (Likely Cut) WHO? Yes, he does play for your Columbus Crew and actually had some first team minutes. I have not watched much of the reserve league to be able to judge Kevan's abilities, but in light of the team having several people who can play his position, I don't see a point in keeping him.
Cole Grossman (Gone) I'm fairly disappointed in this move. Grossman is a smart kid who played well when inserted into the lineup. Real Salt Lake may have picked themselves a nice gem in getting him in the waiver trade. Time will tell.
Andy Gruenebaum (Staying) Crew fans have always talked about the fact that we have two quality goalkeepers that are capable of starting for any team. With Hesmer going down for the season with a hip injury, Crew fans got to really know that what they thought all along, was in fact, a reality. We have all seen Andy play in Champions League and Open Cup competition, which were few and far in between. Getting to see Andy play on a regular basis has brought his skills and abilities into new light. Andy was robbed when it came to MLS ALL-Star selections and post-season awards, but I think this will push him even harder as he now becomes the new lion between the posts.
Tommy Heinemann (Likely Cut) Having a season ending injury before the season starts puts a damper on things. Sadly, I believe it will put a damper on Tommy's days as a player for the Crew. Right now the Crew is STACKED with forwards, forwards who can play wing and midfield and midfielders who can score. With the attack coming more down the middle as opposed to the wings, the need for a tall forward in the box tends to diminish. Even as a substitute, it's hard for me to see him being one of the top three options for Warzycha's style of game management.
William Hesmer (Likely Cut) I am a HUGE Hesmer fan. I don't think there are ANY disputes that he will go down as one of the best goalies the MLS has seen. The critical surgery that had sidelined him for the 2012 season is a fork in the road. He can try to come back knowing that one more injury and he will be done for good, or he calls it a career. I will not speculate on either and I feel that most, if not all fans will support his decision. Should Hesmer depart, he knows that he is leaving behind a man who can adequately fill his shoes in his friend Andy Gruenebaum.
Federico Higuain (STAYING) Yes, I put that in all capital letters. Aside from the fact that the Crew inked him for a guaranteed minimum of 2 years plus options, at 28 years of age, he's just about hitting his prime. I have said this before and I will say it again, Higuain and Arrieta seem to be the déjà-vu of Schelotto and Moreno but at a younger age. I'm really looking forward to 2013. I don't have much to say here. You have all seen what the man can do with the ball and how he directs traffic on the field.
Aaron Horton (Likely Cut) There is no worse feeling than the possibility of having to cut that first home grown player. Aaron made a lot of noise during the NCAA tournament in 2010 with some late and critical heroics for the University of Louisville in getting them to the Division One championship game. However, I think the Crew made a hasty decision in signing him. I believe that Horton was not quite prepared to make the shift from college to pro.
Horton has skills that could make him a contributor on a team. However, I believe that right now, he is lacking the discipline it takes to be a pro, put in the work and allow for his skills to grow and shine. Should he stay, this would likely be his do-or-die year in making it at the pro level.
Julius James (Likely Staying) Julius has proven that he can be a good center back pairing with Chad. Though he was sidelined by injuries for quite a bit of the year, James generally picked up right where he left off when inserted into the lineup. As the defense stands right now (everyone being healthy) the first line would be Miranda, James, Marshall and Williams (left back position subject of Warzycha experimentation)
Matt Lampson (Staying) The two main reasons are 1) He is a pretty good keeper and 2) you need a backup keeper regardless of Hesmer's status.
Chad Marshall (Staying) Chad worries me. Yes, he is staying, but I believe that his playing level has declined steadily since 2009. It was revealed at the end of the year, that he had been playing on a bad ankle for quite a bit of the season. I hope that that was the case for a sub-par (by Chad's standards) 2012. 2013 will be a critical season for Chad in my opinion. He is one solid concussion away from retirement and his play has been in decline. If this team is going to succeed with Chad on the field, we need to see some more of his 2008 and 2009 versions.
Carlos Mendes (Likely Cut) The Crew signed Mendes in the offseason to bring in someone who can fill a center back spot while Julius James recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Mendes would have also been an experienced player that could fill in multiple spots on the defense. Well, that whole plan didn't quite work out as Mendes was sidelined for most of the season with recurring hamstring injuries. Mendes did get put in a few shifts though through the season and performed adequately. If Mendes stays, it's more because of experience and a thin back line than anything else.
Justin Meram (Likely Staying) In the injury-induced absences of Duka and Anor, Meram started establishing himself on the left wing and in the offense. A three game scoring streak pushed his stock even further. Though Warzycha benched him at the peek of a scoring streak, Meram made his way back as a midfielder complementing the wing work of Eddie Gaven.
I know there are many who dislike Meram, for one reason or another, but I do think that he has the skills to claim that left-winger spot. With some patience and development of skill, he can be a solid cog in the 2013 machine. Oh yeah, he can score too.
Sebastian Miranda (Staying) Really, he should be staying. All I have to say is that Miranda has been a steady workhorse on the right side for 2 years. If it's not broke, don't fix it. Right back is Miranda's spot until there is a capable understudy that can take over. He's out of contract and the Crew should be trying to sign him to an extension.
Milovan Mirosevic (Likely Staying) I think that we have yet to see all what Mirosevic can do on this team. Having a full offseason with Arrieta, Higuaen and Gaven could make a world of difference and we may start to see some of the stuff we saw in his highlight reel.
In the great scheme of things, many have applauded his leadership in the locker room and on the field. This is something this team desperately needs since it doesn't seem to be coming from the coaching staff. This is a 50/50 though. I really do hope his option is picked up for at least 2013.
Danny O'Rourke (Likely Staying) Not only is Danny one of the faces of the organization, but also his flexibility and ability to play various midfield and defensive positions make him an asset. Has Danny been hurt a lot? Yes. But when he is healthy, he plays full 90s and is an effective member of the team. Barring something unexpected by the coaching staff or Front Office, the defensive midfielder position should be between Birchall and O'Rourke in 2013. If he can stay healthy, that would be even better.
Emilio Renteria (Likely Cut) I hate to say this, but I can feel it coming. Though Renteria's transition from forward to right wing has seen him excel sometimes, It's hard to see the team keeping him as a substitute at his salary. Inconsistency has plagued Renteria for the last couple of years and a shift in offensive style seems to be the writing on the wall for his days with the Crew.
Aaron Schoenfeld (Likely Staying) I have gone back and forth on this quite a bit. I believe that ONE player will be kept in a toss up between Schoenfeld and Heinemann. Both possess similar skills. Schoenfeld is a bit bigger and a bit cheaper than Heinemann though, so, my scale tips in his favor. I don't see Aaron's role to be anything more than a change of pace or a tactical substitute.
Ben Speas (Staying) Getting a to start the last game of the season was a pretty good indication that Ben is on the right track. Warzycha seems to like his work rate in practices and during reserve games. I can see Speas gaining a bigger role in 2013.
Tony Tchani (Likely Cut) Many would like nothing more than seeing Tchani go. ANYWHERE. When Tchani was acquired, his track record against the Crew may have indicated a good transaction. However, the Crew seemed to have gotten a lemon. Not only that, but the team proceeded to pickup the talents of Milovan Mirosevic. Needless to say, Tchani was bumped to the wing where he never quite fit. Yes, Tony did have some games where he showed flashes of brilliance, but given the choice between him and Mirosevic, I'm taking Milo every time.
Olman Vargas (Gone) Vargas never really got into the swing of things. I don't know if it's lack of adjustment, effort or not fitting into Warzycha's system, regardless, he didn't live up to his highlight reel. In reality, I think the only reason the Crew signed him was as a calculated risk to fill a spot till Arrieta or a DP arrived. By the time Arrieta did arrive, Vargas seemed to be already in Warzycha's doghouse, which pretty much eliminated him from any possibility of getting reunited with his former teammate. I can't say this was a shock. His name was probably first on the list as soon as Arrieta and Higuain started clicking.
Nemanja Vukovich (Gone) THIS was a disappointing turn of events. I had no confidence in Shaun Francis at the beginning of the season. When Warzycha brought in Vukovich as a trialist, it seemed that he found a guy that works in his system. A left footed left back with experience that can provide support to the offence coming up the sideline and overlapping with the winger. It didn't take long for Vukovich to unseat Francis from the starting job and even the team.
Vukovich seemed to be the answer at left back and started 12 games before suffering and ankle injury. After recovering from his injury, Vukovich seemed to fall out of favor with Warzycha. According to Vukovich himself, no reason was given for said falling out of favor or what needs to be done in order to get back into the starting lineup.
Josh Williams (Staying) This really needs no explanation. I must confess that after the signing of Vukovich and Mendes along with having Miranda, Marshall and James in established spots, I did not believe that there is room on this roster for Williams. I also did not believe that he was that sharp, even a bit temperamental in the preseason. I WAS WRONG. Williams was a very pleasant surprised in a season that was injury plagued from day one. I would rather see the Crew actually signs a good left back and pair Williams back up with Chad in the middle of the defense.
Regardless of what actually takes place with turnover, there have been some red flags raised throughout this year. I continue to believe that Warzycha is not a good personnel manager. I don't mean when it comes to lineups, but more when it comes to managing the players in the locker room and practice field. More than one player has mentioned that when they lost playing time they were not told (coached) how to improve or what they need to correct in order to get more playing time or return to the lineup. It is one thing to have an eye for talent, but it's a totally different thing to have the ability to hone and improve the skills and talents of your players.