I completed large chunk of this article before watching the preseason games Friday and Sunday. I refused to be shackled to such analysis methods of "watching players play," instead opting for the advanced metric of "winging it". Thankfully this column is not published until after the weekend so I get a second chance of making correct predictions. I do include the ranking pre and post preseason games as well to generate further discussion. Topics such as this are always better in a dialog, preferably around a few adult beverages. Massive Report does not provide libations, but we do provide polls and a comments section. After reading this, add your thoughts or rankings to the article and send them out on Twitter or Facebook as well (and follow me while you're at it, you won't be disappointed). I am not the only one with a voice, we want to hear what Crew SC-nation thinks of the new signings, even if I know I'm right and you're wrong.
Here is the criteria used for the purposes of these rankings:
Quality: Overall performance from the preseason and career. The players overall career numbers were taken into account with more recent seasons given more weight.
A players PAR or Play Above Replacement. This analyzes the new Columbus player's performance against the player he replaced. This gages the net impact of the new signing. For maximum impact a player must match the quality of the player he replaced AND exceed it. For example if Kristinn Steindorsson scores nine goals this year (Justin Meram's total last season) but in order to do so he takes Meram's position and minutes, have Crew SC actually gained anything?
Expected time on the field: For the player to have an impact, he must be playing. A player's potential will impact future seasons, but this article is only concerned with 2015.
Ten players were officially added in the offseason. Including draft picks they are:
I also included Emanuel Pogatetz even though he was acquired in the summer transfer window last year because he only played 52 minutes, and one was due to an injury to Michael Parkhurst. Every indication is that Pogatetz was acquired to contribute in 2015 so he will be ranked as such.
Rankings will begin at number six, because the notion of a 10-yard box is ridiculous (not to mention 18). Note: the previous rankings are where I had them ahead of the two preseason games in the ATX Pro Challenge since no one will see the game or even highlights against an overwhelmed London United.
6: Chris Klute (Previously ranked No. 1)
They say not to take anything away from preseason games, but I have taken the No. 1 ranking away from Chris Klute. I ranked him No. 1 because I believed he would be the opening day starter at right fullback and he would hold onto that position for most of the season. After watching the two preseason games, I still believe in his talent but I no longer think he will start. Klute was as described on offense offering plenty of crosses. The issue, however, was his struggles on the defensive side. I am taking the advice of the Massive Report podcast from this week (if you haven't listened yet do so after reading and commenting on this article) and chalking his struggles up to a lack of continuity with his new team. All that being said, if he doesn't see the field as a starter he cannot have the largest impact of the Crew SC's new signings. I envision him being inserted in the defensive depth hopper, where he will prove to be useful as a "defensive super sub" and spell the fullbacks when needed. Head coach Gregg Berhalter has discussed for need for depth at the fullback position and Klute will provide that.
5: Mohammed Saeid (Previously not ranked)
It's a long season, and if winning the U.S. Open Cup means anything, depth additions are even more important. Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp started a combined 65 games last year, which is extremely unlikely to happen again. Berhalter was fortunate that neither of these players had to miss significant time due to injury, as he didn't appear to trust his other options. The effects of this were seen late in the season when Trapp began to show signs of mental fatigue and Tchani continued to pile up minor injuries. This year Mohammed Saeid should be able to provide that rest to Tchani and Trapp by providing accurate passing and intelligent defense. Saeid's impact should be seen by helping Columbus progress further in the Open Cup and providing a more rested central midfield for the playoff run.
4: Kristinn Steindorsson (Previously ranked No. 4)
The reason Steindorsson isn't ranked higher has nothing to do with his talent. He may be one of the most dynamic players on the Crew SC roster. His chemistry early on with Ethan Finlay seems to be exceptional. He also shows an ability to find seams within a defense. Steindorsson is the benefactor of being the third or fourth attacking threat on the team. Defenses focus on Federico Higuian, Kamara, and Finlay, leaving Steindorsson to weave through the back line unnoticed. Expect to see this set up often this season, especially after the 60th minute as defenses lose focus and their legs grow heavier.
The reason he is this low on the list is because he has big shoes to fill. So far, Steindorsson has lined up at the attacking left midfield position, which is where Meram played last year and scored nine goals. For Steindorsson to provide the largest impact, he would need to meet that total and exceed it. It is hard to see that happening given all the competition for his spot. Meram, Cedrick, and Hector Jiminez should cut into Steindorssons playing time enough to keep him from being the most impactful new player over the course of the season.
3: Kei Kamara (Previously ranked No. 2)
Kamara comes in at number three for the opposite reasons Steindorsson is number four. I don't think Kamara will be a top MLS forward, but the production from Adam Bedell and Jairo Arrieta (players he is replacing) was only five goals and zero assists in 25 starts. If Kamara has even a below average season for a forward, scoring 10 goals (which would have ranked him 26th in goals/20th among forwards in 2014) and one assist, he will double Columbus' previous production for 25 games. Kamara is a proven MLS scorer with 11 goals and eight assists in 2012 with Sporting KC. It is reasonable to expect this production in Berhalter's offense that generates a large number of chances, though, he may have a drop off in assists due to him playing the target forward role rather than on the wing as he did for Sporting KC. If he can replicate his 2012 season, he may not be an All Star, but he will make a massive impact on the 2015 Crew SC.
2: Emmanuel Pogatetz (Previously not ranked)
Pogatetz was previously not ranked because I forgot he was on the team. Something I believe Berhalter was also guilty of in the playoffs against the New England Revolution. There is no Columbus Crew SC player more polarizing at the time of this articles writing than Tyson Wahl (the player Pogatetz is likely replacing). Wahl played well against the Aztex which earned him praise on Twitter, but this praise quickly turned to scorn as fans pointed out his head scratching performances in the playoffs. If I had written an over reactions piece for the second preseason game, my main take away would have been: Crew SC fans hate it when players they dislike do well.
I agree with the majority of Crew SC fans who say that Wahl is not a starting center back in this league. Emmanuel Pogatetz, however, is with the attitude of a center back. Legend has it that last year in one of his cameos against the Philadelphia Union, with Crew SC desperately holding on to a 3-2 lead, Pogatetz yelled, "Don't ****ing stop!" at the beginning of stoppage time. This shows heart, determination, grit, and all the intangibles needed to block shots and knock over forwards. Pogatetz also has the physical skills needed as well, winning 50% of aerial duels in his limited time last year. This is among the best percentage on Crew SC. Going against Pogatetz in the air comes with a price, many fans of the Black and Gold may forget that within his first five minutes on the field with the Crew SC, he gave a the Union player a concussion with his massive forehead. Pogatetz should win the starting job and lock down the box in front of Steve Clark all season.
1: Hernan Grana (Previously 6)
Hernan Grana is a massively underrated signing. In his preseason performance he showed awareness of other players on the field, ability to intercept passes, terrific passing for his position, confidence in the defensive third, and exceptional crossing. Grana also passes the eye test. He looks like a starting fullback who can command his side of the field.
The nature of the fullback in Berhalter's offense is risk/reward. He want his fullbacks playing high up the pitch overlapping the wingers to provide crosses in the box.
The reward is with a defender providing service, more offensive options are able to receive the ball. The risk, as you can see, is if the ball is turned over, the fullback is near the corner flag and is rendered almost useless on the counter attack. This suits Grana's game perfectly as he tends to be a high risk/high reward player, as the risks he took for Boca Juniors in Argentina got him a one way ticket out of town (and some strong dislike from the fans after his departure). This team and its fan base however, are much more willing to take Grana's type of risks because of a strong defensive unit of Parkhurst, Pogatetz, Tchani, and Trapp. Expect to see Grana start at right back, notch 5-7 assists this year, and commit very few turnovers.
Do you think this list is out of order? Do you think anyone else should be on it? Let us know below