Nearly two weeks has past since the MLS Expansion Draft occurred and Columbus Crew SC lost Jairo Arrieta and Eric Gehrig to Orlando City SC. The day before, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter elected to trade midfielder Bernardo Anor to Sporting Kansas City and defender Josh Williams to New York City FC because the two would not be protected for the draft.
In total, Columbus lost four players who combined for 5,209 game minutes from 2014, 11 goals, and three assists in two days. Could this be Berhalter's first mistake in the transfer market since joining the club last November?
In just over a year in charge, Berhalter has hit the mark on nearly every deal he's made. Acquiring Giancarlo Gonzalez and Michael Parkhurst while letting Chad Marshall and Danny O'Rourke leave may not have appeared to be the best move at the time, but Gonzalez earned the highest transfer fee ever received for an MLS defender and Parkhurst was an all star for the Black and Gold.
Steve Clark was a relatively unknown name despite being American, but the goalkeeper was one of the best in MLS after Berhalter brought him in last offseason.
Many who follow the team expect this trend to continue, as Berhalter and his staff meticulously scour the globe for talent to improve the team, but the recent departures leave some question marks.
Anor was not a consistent starter by the year's end, but provided some things few other players can. He has the diversity to play multiple positions, including either side of the midfield, left back, or any central midfield position, which gave the team a lot of flexibility.
When Anor was on the field, no matter the position, his shot had to be respected as soon as he entered the attacking third of the field. The opposition had to be aware that he might uncork a shot and that means not thinking as much about other attacking options. His ability to create on his own opened space for his attacking teammates, even when playing as a defender.
Williams also provided the team with diversity in his ability to play anywhere along the back line. With his height, he is certainly a capable center back, but he has the athleticism to play on the outside as well. Over the last two years, he demonstrated the desire to get forward on the outside and the ability to serve a dangerous ball.
After the draft, Berhalter explained that the club felt they could get more value for these two players who would be unprotected anyway than they would have if they were selected in the draft. Without knowing the specifics of the allocation money received in return for Anor and Williams, it is tough to say, but it must be assumed it is more than the $50,000 they got in return for their drafted players.
The issue becomes replacing these two players. After Anor's departure, Crew SC signed 26-year old Icelandic midfielder Kristinn Steindórsson, but he will need to adapt to Berhalter's style of play and his new teammates, whereas Anor was clearly comfortable and understood his role.
With the departure of both Williams and Gehrig, the Black and Gold need to find cover at multiple positions along the back line. Both players could play at nearly every spot, which makes it easier to move players around if needed.
Berhalter has experienced center back Emmanuel Pogatetz, who only appeared twice after being acquired late in the season to replace Gonzalez, so he will be a more viable option in 2015. The issue is, he does not provide the same diversity.
While Arrieta was not returning to Columbus for 2015, his spot must be replaced as well. Crew SC will have forward Kei Kamara, but he also must prove his worth. They will also need to add depth up top, with just three natural forwards on the roster.
Only time will tell if these were the right moves, but this is the first time Berhalter's decisions can be called into question.
This season will be a true Berhalter team, after inheriting much of his talent for his first year. In the end, these moves and what he does the remainder of the offseason will ultimately decide how the season goes for Crew SC in 2015.