Columbus Crew SC are a young team. An average of 25.6 could tell you that, but there is more to it than that.
Two out of the top three returning goal scorers from last season, Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram, are 24 and 26-years old respectively. Finlay was also tied for the team lead in assists with Federico Higuain (an old man at 30-years old) with seven, and is joined in the top-five assisters by Tony Tchani (25-years old), Waylon Francis (24), and Hector Jimenez (26).
Steve Clark, who is 28 (very young for a goalkeeper) led the team in minutes in 2014, playing all 3,060. Aside from Higuain and captain Michael Parkhurst (31-years old) who were third and fourth respectively on the minutes played list, the top-10 is rounded out by players that are all 26-years old or younger.
The beauty of this is all of these players, except Bernardo Anor, return in 2015.
Wil Trapp, who is 22-years old, played 28 games for the Black and Gold last year, registering 2,486 minutes, one goal, and four assists in his second professional season. Trapp certainly would have seen more time if not for multiple suspensions due to either a red card or yellow card accumulation.
Trapp recently earned his first call-up to the U.S. Men's National Team and made his debut for his country, playing 30 minutes against Chile. His age and ability have pegged him as the linchpin for Columbus for as long as he wants to remain playing for his hometown team.
Alongside him is Tchani, who nearly had to be dragged off the field last year. Although it took a while for fans to warm up to his style of play, the central midfielder demonstrated the ability to control and police the midfield and was a perfect compliment to Trapp.
Finlay, Meram, Francis, and Jimenez are all young players who are expected to provide major contributions for Crew SC going forward, but there are other players as well that should begin to step up.
Romain Gall only played 43 minutes for the Black and Gold after joining the team in early August via a weighted lottery, but a lot more is expected of him in 2015. Gall just finished helping the U.S. Under-20 national team qualify for the 2015 youth World Cup and was joint top scorer of the CONCACAF U-20 Championship as well as being one of only two U.S. players to be named to the tournament's Best XI.
Gall will look to translate success with the youth national team into MLS success this year with Columbus.
The team's two Benny's, Homegrowns Ben Speas and Ben Swanson will also look to make an impact this year. Speas, 24, had a bit of a breakout year in 2014, playing in 13 games and registering one goal and three assists. While his time is limited backing up Higuain, Speas is looking to prove that he can contribute from other positions as well in his fourth year with the club.
Swanson won't turn 18 until the middle of July, yet is one of the most talked about up-and-coming U.S. youth players. Before he signed with Crew SC in October, there was interest abroad after a stellar youth career.
While Swanson still has to learn the professional game, the reviews by his teammates and coaches have been great. He is currently competing to backup Trapp, who may miss time this summer with the U.S. team at the Gold Cup. If he doesn't see much playing time in 2015, he still has a bright future ahead, considering he won't be able to celebrate the start of a season with an alcoholic beverage until 2019.
There are also the additions head coach Gregg Berhalter made for this season. The only two players of that group that could be considering "old" are Kei Kamara (30) and Hernan Grana (29) and both of those players appear to have a lot left in the tank.
The additions of 24-year olds Kristinn Steindorsson and Mohammed Saeid add depth to an already young group. Steindorsson is expected to contribute to an outside midfielder position that saw multiple guys play there last year. Saeid will help add depth in the center of the midfield and could earn some substantial playing time with good performances.
Both players were brought in to provide their services now, but Berhalter likely had an eye towards the future as well.
Chris Klute was acquired from the Colorado Rapids in a draft-day trade and is expected to play substantial minutes as an outside back, the team's most taxing position. At 24-years old, there is no worry that Klute won't be able to make it up and down the sideline for years to come.
Speaking of the SuperDraft, Columbus picked more young talent from there as well. While Sagi Lev-Ari may be considered old in the draft, the 25-year old forward has many playing years ahead of him. Defenders Sergio Campbell and Kalen Ryden (both 23) as well as goalkeeper Tomas Gomez (21) - to go along with Lev Ari - are all young talents that will look to make the roster.
This doesn't even mention the addition the Black and Gold will get in early summer when midfielder Cedrick arrives. The DR Congo international helped his team to the knockout rounds of the African Cup of Nations (semifinals to be played Saturday) at just 22-years old.
While Berhalter isn't going to rule out a player due to age - Kamara and Grana as examples - it is clear he wants to have a squad that can compete now and is ready for the future.
There is a lot of talent on this Crew SC team and much of it is under the age of 26. That not only bodes well for the Black and Gold in 2015, but for future seasons as well.
Could Columbus be on the verge of a dynasty?