With their first pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, the Columbus Crew elected to go defensive. Not only did they select left back Ben Sweat out of the University of South Florida with the 14th pick, but also traded their original fourth-overall pick to the New England Revolution for the rights to U.S. international defender Michael Parkhurst.
Crew fans may have been confused by the move to draft Sweat due to the left back options already on the roster, but as owner Anthony Precourt tweeted, he was the player they desired all along.
Gregg got his man. Welcome to the Crew Ben Sweat! Likely would have taken him at 4th overall, a win for us. #crew96— Anthony Precourt (@APrecourt) January 16, 2014
Last year, Tyson Wahl and Agustin Viana split time at left back, but Berhalter said the coaching staff views Wahl as more of a central defender. Columbus also added Costa Rican left back Waylon Francis this offseason, who many expect to be the starter.
Berhalter told Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch that he sees Sweat as a player that is three years from being an MLS starter, but told Andrew King of MLSsoccer.com that he believes Sweat can contribute right away.
"We got an exciting player," Berhalter said of Sweat. "He’s a very dynamic player, likes to get up and down the wing. Good left foot, good crossing of the ball, good offensive skills.
"We’re going to work on his defensive qualities, but a good, good guy, good player and we’re surprised that he lasted that long."
Sweat will compete for the spot with Francis and Viana, but will likely land a reserve role as he continues to develop at the professional level.
Berhalter said that they were surprised that Sweat lasted until their 14th pick and that he represented a lot of value that they couldn't pass on.
The Crew has now turned what appeared to be a weakness a week ago into a potential strength. With the addition of Parkhurst and Sweat, they now have more talent and depth along the back line.
Sweat, who played for the Crew Junior Super-20 team in 2011, was excited to be picked by the Black and Gold.
"It’s exciting to finally start my career after trying to push for it for a couple of years," he said after being selected. "I’m excited to go to a team I’m familiar with, a couple of guys that I know, that I’ve played against and played with. I’m really looking forward to getting up there."
Berhalter said he is happy with how the roster is coming together as the team prepares for training camp.
"I feel good, I feel really good," he said. "I think it’s a good roster, maybe one or two additions that we still need to work on, but its good guys, team players and technical players. I’m excited."
The Crew passed on midfielder Pedro Ribeiro and forward Schillo Tshuma, who many experts projected going earlier in the draft and would have filled holes on the roster.
Berhalter confirmed to King that they are aware of those needs, but no one in the draft filled the roles as they see them. It would make sense that these would be the positions that the staff will focus on before heading to camp.
The Crew's preseason begins on January 24, where the team will train in Columbus for two days before heading to Florida for two weeks.