All around the world, people went to sleep on Christmas Eve looking forward to the morning when they could wake up and unwrap Christmas presents. Children and adults alike spent the last month developing a list of gifts they would like to receive as they head into the New Year.
Just like all these people, Columbus Crew SC had a Christmas wish list they would like to receive as they prepare for 2015. On this special holiday, let's take a look at what the Black and Gold asked for.
An Athletic Right Defender
Crew SC sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter did a great job in 2014 of building around the talent that was already in Columbus and constructing a winning team. As he looks to improve on the success of his first season, he needs to first fill a hole that lingered throughout the Black and Gold's last year.
The right back position was a revolving door all season. Defender Josh Williams began the year on the outside of the defensive line, but couldn't hold down the spot after the first 11 games. Williams was replaced by midfielder Hector Jimenez, who was used at the position periodically. Eric Gehrig, Michael Parkhurst, and Chad Barson all saw time, but Berhalter would like to have one starting right back,
Ideally, Berhalter would like to find is a mirrored version of his left back, Waylon Francis. The Costa Rican is a steady player defensively, but has the offensive skills to provide the width the team needs. He is athletic enough and has the work ethic to get forward and back when needed and can deliver a solid cross when he gets into the final third. Francis finished with six assists in 24 games, which is the type of production Berhalter would like from his wing backs.
Earlier in the offseason reports surfaced that Crew SC made an offer for Egyptian right back Omar Gaber. The 22-year old would fit Berhalter's needs with a defensive pedigree but his experience playing in the midfield as well shows his offensive capability. He has nine caps with the Egyptian national team and therefore has proven he can play at the top level.
Even if the Black and Gold don't acquire Gaber, the report indicates Berhalter and his staff are searching for someone to fill the void. Williams and Gehrig are no longer with the team so something must be done before the new season begins.
A Goal-Scoring Striker
Crew SC have searched for a forward with consistent production in front of goal for the last few years. In 2014, true forwards combined to score just 10 goals on the season, less than 20 percent of their total on the year.
Jairo Arrieta began his career brightly with Columbus, but could never repeat the nine goals in his first 18 games and he is not longer with the club. Rookie forward Adam Bedell and third-year player Aaron Schoenfeld each showed promise in the first year under Berhalter, but neither demonstrated the ability to be a starting striker on a playoff team in MLS.
Towards the end of 2014, Crew SC announced the signing of striker Kei Kamara via the allocation ranking and he will be added to the roster January 1. Kamara brings a wealth of experience to the side, with 52 goals in 193 MLS games and four goals in 23 caps for the Sierra Leone national team.
While Kamara will certainly give Columbus a consistent player up top, he may not be the goal scorer the team is looking for. Kamara had his most successful seasons in MLS playing wide for Sporting Kansas City in a three-prong attack, not as the point man in a singular-striker system. Kamara's best year statistically was 2012 when he finished with 11 goals and eight assists. Those are numbers Crew SC would certainly like, but would love more from their target man.
As the Black and Gold proved in 2014, you do not need a 20-goal scorer up top in order to make the playoffs and make a run at a title, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. With only three strikers on their roster, Columbus will have to make a move to fill spots, even if it just for depth purposes.
This is something Berhalter discussed towards the end of 2014 when addressing the additions of Kamara and midfielder Mohammed Saeid for the next season. On more than one occasion, Berhalter stated that a team needs to have potential starters coming off the bench in order to be a championship-level team, as those players will be needed throughout the course of a season.
Fans of the Black and Gold saw this during 2014, specifically in the midfield. With the way Berhalter asks his central midfielders to play - working back to help the defensive line as the outside backs push forward - they will receive cards and a young player like Wil Trapp was a victim of this. Both Agustin Viana and Daniel Paladini did serviceably when Trapp was unavailable, but neither remains with the team. The depth in the center of the park has begun to be addressed, but it wouldn't be surprising if there are future moves there as well.
Although last season was a success for Crew SC, the players and coaches were disappointed the team did not make more of a push in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Part of this could be attributed to fatigue, as the same group of players played the majority of the minutes over the final third of the season, as the Black and Gold made their climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
Berhalter has said his staff continues to look for players at all positions in order to improve the depth, but the defensive line seems to be the most in need. With the departures of Williams and Gehrig, the Black and Gold lose diversity on the back line they must now replace. They could also use help at the outside midfield position and at least some depth at forward heading into the new year.
Columbus Crew Stadium Naming Rights
You didn't think the Crew SC only asked for players for Christmas did you? Where do you think the money to pay for additions comes from?
Columbus Crew (SC?) Stadium will always have a special place in American soccer lore as the first major professional soccer specific stadium in the country. As more stadiums have been built in the subsequent years, it has become apparent that while it was the first, Crew Stadium has some work to do to catch up.
One thing that would help would be a naming sponsorship for the stadium. The organization is always searching for a partner, yet no deal materialized over the first 16 years of the stadium's existence. Selling the naming rights before the 2015 season kicks off would be a big boost moving forward.
In late October, Crew Stadium had a temporary new name, as "Mapfre Stadium" was displayed at various areas around the concourse. Crew SC representatives said there was nothing to report and it was just being used as a demonstration of what they would do for a partner. Thus far, nothing has come from the example, but it shows the organization is working hard to sell the naming rights.
With the rebrand really beginning with the new season, owner Anthony Precourt would love to get a deal done. The team has already announced updates to the stadium for the upcoming year, including new local food partners along with other improvements. If the rights are sold, you can certainly expect more updates in the future.
Another Positive Step Forward in Attendance
This last season was record setting for Crew SC from a attendance perspective. Crew Stadium set single-season records in sellouts (five) and total attendance (286,976). The Black and Gold have seen an average attendance growth of 38.5 percent since 2011, the most in the league over that time, and had their best average attendance (16,881) since 2002.
With the team continuing to improve on the field, it is likely these numbers will continue to increase. Fans around Columbus were excited for Crew SC in 2014 and the rebrand and continued success will only draw more fans to games.
What the Crew SC organization will wish for in 2015 is to see a consistent, large fan base show up for each game. They would love to build on the five sellouts of a year ago and see if they can move up the ladder of average attendance around the league.
The popularity of soccer is at an all-time high and is only growing. Precourt and Berhalter both discussed capitalizing on that last year and they would love to see that happen in 2015.
Anything else you think Crew SC should wish for this Christmas? Do you have anything you would wish for for the Black and Gold? Let us know in the comments section below.