Gregg Berhalter has kept his head down since taking the helm on November 6th. He's made a few cuts, but has kept a significant part of the old roster. He hasn't burnt down the house that Bliss and Warzycha built.
Then he traded Chad Marshall. Mr. Crew. More than any other player, Marshall has been there. The end of the Andrulis era? Marshall was a 20 year old learning the ropes as a pro. The Crew's sputtering rebirth under Sigi Schmid? Marshall played 67 games culminating in an MLS Cup and his first league defender of the year award.
He saw the slide of the Warzycha Era. He was in the lineup for 128 games, over half of his Crew total. He cemented his place as a Black and Gold all timer on some middling teams, even captaining the 2011 and 2012 teams.
Berhalter looked at both sides - a 29 year old central defender, a stalwart in every definition of the word against a third round draft pick next year and allocation money - He took the pick and money.
The great baseball general manager Branch Rickey quipped "Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late." And Berhalter decided that's true in Marshall's case.
Marshall is still one of the league's top defenders. He can dominate in the air and is highly technical, but has a significant injury history and a large and reportedly growing salary. Berhalter looked at the next great Crew team and could see two other players in central defense.
He's since uttered the dreaded "R" word. Next year will involve rebuilding. There is no talk about MLS Cup out of the gate. I'd imagine there are still lofty expectations, but he's not going to plaster them in the Dispatch or MLSSoccer.com yet. Wise for a team that finished 16th out of 19 teams last year.
I've had the chance to talk with the Berhalter a couple of times since he's been at the helm of the Crew. He's reserved, well spoken, and thoughtful. He doesn't come off as a firebrand. He hasn't launched stinging barbs at the Chicago Fire or D.C. United. In person, he may even come off as mild mannered.
Berhalter's trade of Marshall, however, confirms he's no shrinking violet. He has the chutzpah... the audacity... the fearlessness to jump in and make the big move. It's not safe and it's not by the book. That's not to say that trading Marshall will work out. The Crew now has a big hole to fill at central back on top of the striker they need.