When the Columbus Crew opened the 2013 campaign against Chivas USA, their defensive line was made up of Tyson Wahl at left back, Glauber and Chad Marshall in the center, and Josh Williams on the right. The 2014 preseason opened with just two of those four - Williams and Wahl - still members of this team.
The Crew has historically been a good defensive unit, but on March 8 they will lineup without Marshall on the roster for the first time in 10 seasons.
The back line changed throughout 2013, with injuries causing a need for other players to fill in. By the end of the year, Williams had played every position across the line, Wahl had moved to the middle, Chad Barson had locked up the right back spot, Augustin Viana played on the left, and other combinations.
There was little continuity on defense for a group that finished fourth best in goals allowed in MLS.
New head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter would like to see similar production this season with more consistency in terms of personnel. This early in preseason though, it appears no one has earned a spot under the new coach.
"I think everybody's still fighting for positions," Williams said on Wednesday. "There's no guaranteed spots anywhere and I think that's good, it brings the best out of everybody."
It is often overstated that there are no locked up positions under a new coach, but along the Crew's back line this is likely the case. U.S. national team defender Michael Parkhurst, whose rights were acquired in a trade with the New England Revolution in January, may be the only sure bet to start on opening day.
"He's doing a great job," Berhalter said of Parkhurst since joining the team. "He's been performing every day in training at a high level and that's good to see, he brings other guys along with him."
Even if Parkhurst is slated to start, it is likely only in pencil at this point. Williams believes that the defensive positions are still up for grabs.
"Right now, I think everybody's fighting for four spots so the competition is high every day and guys are bringing it every day and that's what you ask for," he said. "As far as a starting four, I don't think there is one right now, everybody's still fighting for that."
Competition can breed success and that is what the Crew is hoping for with the back line.
There is still three and half weeks until Columbus opens the season against D.C. United, which means there's still time for players to earn their spot. The team has four preseason matches for Berhalter to evaluate the talent and come up with a starting lineup.
Williams may be one of the likely candidates to start on day one, but he realizes that decision is not up to him.
"When the first game comes around, that's going to be up to Gregg to decide and everybody needs to be ready to battle," he said in regards to the four defensive spots.
If all the players go about their business this way - battling for a starting position every day - the team as a whole will benefit.