Preseason camp opened last week with the usual collection of "what I did over winter vacation" stories and even few "welcome to town" pieces for the newcomers. The Crew still lack several pieces that would make them a playoff challenger in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.
This team is far from the finished product. The Eastern Conference have spent the offseason arming up for 2014, while the Crew have yet to fill a significant deficiency from the 2013 roster. Steve Clark returns to the United States, but he's replacing the solid and dependable Andy Gruenebaum. Clark was an outstanding keeper in Norway, but goalkeeper wasn't a position of need.
Michael Parkhurst is another savvy acquisition. He's likely the most technically sound defender the U.S. has produced in the last decade, but again he's replacing another top player in the now traded Chad Marshall. Is he an upgrade over Marshall? Surely in some areas, but not a clear improvement over Marshall.
The one big offseason rumor was that the Crew was pursuing German defender Maik Franz of Hertha BSC. Franz comes with the ankle breaking, hard man pedigree to solidify a defense, but his asking price has already scared off the Crew according to head coach Gregg Berhalter.
The Crew could afford his salary under the cap, but there would be a significant opportunity cost to pursuing Franz. It's not clear he'd be a signifiant upgrade to the defense that boasts Parkhurst and Josh Williams in the middle.
The team hasn't landed another scorer. They've gotten some cast off parts in Hector Jimenez from LA and Daniel Paladini from Chicago. They have been solid journeymen through their careers. Expecting them to be key contributors of a playoff caliber team is a big leap from past results.
Berhalter appears content to keep the team as is. "As is" isn't good enough to make the playoffs. Without another scorer to lead the offense or a winger that could terrorize opposing defenses, 2014 looks like a rebuilding year. The accepts this as part of the plan, but fans may not be as understanding.