With no game this weekend, I thought it would be a good time to take a look ahead at the upcoming summer transfer window opening July 8th. Columbus Crew SC are in an unenviable position when it comes to strengthening the squad via transfers. It is no secret that Crew SC are second to last in payroll in MLS, something that is unlikely to change after the transfer window closes. The departure of Hernan Grana likely gives the team a little spending flexibility, but there have been no indications Anthony Precourt is looking to spend big next month.
So just what can Columbus do in July to add to their squad? Is there a player who can vault them to the top of the Eastern Conference? If so, can fans realistically expect a major signing? These questions and more are answered below.
What position will Columbus Crew SC prioritize this transfer window?
Hernan Grana's absence will surely mean right back will be a priority in the summer transfer window. This is not an easy position to fill in Berhalter's offense, as the player will need to be able to contribute as a distributor offensively while having the pace to track back and cover defensively. Hector Jimenez has filled in admirably in the last few games, but has left something to be desired on the defensive end. He has proven valuable sending crosses into the box and making over lapping runs, but he is routinely caught forward and out of position leading to strong counter attacking chances. I expect Berhalter to find a replacement for him in July.
Can we expect Crew SC to be in play for a major signing like last summer?
Unfortunately, #MixOneFour is probably not going to happen, but it did lead to a fun few days. I remember refreshing twitter every few seconds while taking my mother to the doctor's office to treat a broken ankle. My answer to this question is the same as it would have been last year before the Mix report came out: No.
I believe Precourt is willing to spend, but the positions that get fans excited are central attacking midfielder and striker. Federico Higuian and Kei Kamara are two of the best players in the MLS and occupy those positions. Defenders rarely make DP money and its difficult seeing a defender making a major splash amongst soccer casual fans.
Anything can happen, I certainly didn't see last year's close call coming, but Columbus does not seem to be in a position to sign a star attacking player.
What position or positions do you think could use an upgrade?
I have seen what I need to see from Justin Meram in the last two years under Berhalter. I rate him as an above average attacking left midfielder. If there were one area I would be curious to see an upgrade on, however, it is at left wing. He is extremely streaky and when he isn't scoring goals he doesn't provide much else to the team. A player like Ethan Finlay struggles to finish, but he still takes attention away from the rest of the offense with his dangerous runs and leads the league in assists. So even though Finlay isn't scoring goals he is creating them. Meram provides little other than goals it seems. Berhalter has Cedrick Mabwati coming, so he may see time there. It is very difficult to imagine Columbus signing a left winger with the stable they already have of them.
What is one or two signings you can realistically be made this transfer window?
Realistically? None. That doesn't make for enjoyable blog reading, but I don't see the Black & Gold making any signings.
Why? Because Columbus has a young team that has the talent and potential to improve from within. Take Meram for instance. Berhalter could throw Romain Gall or Ben Speas in his place for a few games and see how they do. Both players could provide a meaningful upgrade from Meram if given enough time to do so. With potential like that on the bench, signing another player only leads to furthering the log jam.
Potential is a tricky thing. It can cause small market teams to pass on acquiring more talent because they believe with "just a little more time" their young players could prove to be as good as the acquired player, but at a fraction of the cost.
What signing would you like to see?
I will stay away from naming specific players for this blog post, but I would like to see a backup striker and center back signed. Backup's can be extremely difficult to sign in this league. With Kamara being the obvious first choice striker, it is a tough sell for a player in his prime to come sit the bench with little hope of playing unless Crew SC are chasing a game.
Realistically, Columbus should look for a past-his-prime striker looking for a chance to contribute while passing along knowledge to the starters. I don't believe Aaron Schoenfeld has the ability to contribute consistently in a meaningful way. The lack of a second option at forward is a major problem moving forward.
The second position I would like to see upgraded is the backup center back. It is often said about Tyson Wahl that he "does not have the talent to be a starter" and "is a serviceable back up." These seem contradictory to me. Either the player is good enough to be on the field or he isn't. At the center back position, in-game subs are rarely made, so they play zero or 90 minutes. I would like to see Columbus sign a player who can compete with Parkhurst and Pogetetz for starting minutes. I also believe this should be a priority, as the defense has been atrocious over the last eight games. Signing a starting caliber defender would light a spark under the current starters and provide a useful option for squad rotation.
That's all for this installment of the transfer window preview. Check back soon for some potential targets the Columbus Crew SC could aim for in July and leave your thoughts in the comment section below.