Columbus Crew SC made the club's second MLS Cup Final this year completing what was a successful second season under head coach Gregg Berhalter, but just a couple weeks into the offseason and the Black & Gold are already making moves.
Last Friday, Crew SC announced the club had traded outside back Chris Klute to the MLS Cup winners, the Portland Timbers, in exchange for "general allocation money." A week later, free agent wing back Corey Ashe signed with the club.
"Improvement," Berhalter said at final interviews a couple of days after the Final. "We want to get better. We want to make sure the team we bring back next year is better. It's difficult, we set a high bar but we believe we can do it."
This move to add a veteran outside back fits the mold of Berhalter's offseason goals.
"We want to make the team better," Berhalter said on Friday. "We want to improve and I think by adding Corey we made the team better today and we're looking forward to his contribution."
While Klute played mostly a backup role during his time with Crew SC, 14 appearances and only eight starts in one season, Ashe is a player who could make an impact.
The fullback fits the mold of the Black & Gold's other outside backs in his ability to get forward and serve crosses, but he also adds some vital MLS experience from his nine years in the league.
"I think the important thing was Corey's experience and his being part of successful teams. He's played in three MLS Cup Finals, he's won one, and we think that leadership is going to help the group," Berhalter said.
"He has a pedigree of being successful in this league and that tells me that he understands how to play in this league. He understands the parameters and the conditions that playing in this league entail."
The 29-year old has played 220 games over his MLS career, spending his first eight seasons with the Houston Dynamo before being traded to Orlando City SC last season. He is looking forward to bringing his talents and experience to Columbus and seeing what he can add to an already accomplished group of defenders.
"Aside from me obviously being a small fullback, I would say one of them is I'm a veteran," Ashe said when asked what sets him apart from others in this league. "I've been around, this is my 10th year, I've been to three MLS Cup Finals, I have a lot of experience. My speed, my ability to get up and down the field, to put crosses in the box. I think defensively I'm also pretty sound."
In this new age of MLS free agency, Ashe had offers from around the league. Not only did the recent success of Crew SC play a part in his decision to join the club, but the coaches and the system as well.
"I would say that the big thing is the style of play suits my style of play, getting up and down the field," he explained. "Like Gregg said, the attacking side of it is very enticing with the attacking players that they have. Another thing is the coaching staff. I feel comfortable with Gregg. I've had a few conversations with him. I'm familiar with Pat Onstad having played with him. I've played against Josh Wolff. So these are guys that have been in the league, they know what it's like to be a player, and I just feel like I will be comfortable in Columbus."
Comfort will be important for the defender who will need to assimilate into a close locker room quickly if he is to push established Crew SC outside backs Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful.
For the Black & Gold, this is only the beginning. The offseason has just started for Berhalter and his staff and the bitter taste of losing the MLS Cup is still in their mouths. Building a better team to reach new heights next year is not only a priority, but a must.
"We're definitely excited to have him and we're not done building this team," Berhalter said. "We're going to keep adding pieces that can hopefully make us better next year."