Early this week, rumors began to circle that Columbus Crew SC had signed Danish midfielder Emil Larsen. By Thursday, reports out of Europe were that a deal was done and on Friday, the Black & Gold officially announced Larsen as the newest member of the club.
Larsen comes to Columbus from Odense Boldklub of the Danish Superliga. Over the course of his three and a half years there, the 24-year old scored 17 goals and added 13 assists in 114 appearances. Larsen also brings international experience, with seven caps for the Danish National Team after making his debut in November of 2012.
"Emil is a young, dynamic midfielder with a bright future and he comes to this club with valuable experience in the Danish Superliga and with his national team," head coach Gregg Berhalter said in the press release. "He's a player that we feel will fit in well in our system and will provide our attack with an added dimension. We have a solid corps of midfielders and Emil is an important addition to that group."
On Friday, as players reported for physicals and testing, Berhalter spoke further on the new signing.
"When we're looking at our roster and looking at that attacking midfield position, whether it's left, center, or right, we look for different profiles and he fits a different profile than what we have," he said. "[Emil's] a very good dribbler, very good passer, and we think he's going to add another dimension to our attack, which we're looking forward to."
With his different skills, what does Berhalter expect of the attacker in his first season in Major League Soccer?
"He'll make an impact," he said. "I would expect that he'll be pushing for minutes and pushing to be a starter. That's his intentions and he is a quality player."
Crew SC currently has three other wingers who regularly contribute on the roster and each have different preferences in terms of style of play. Justin Meram, a collegiate forward, likes move centrally and find the holes underneath the striker. Ethan Finlay, a speedy player who is also a former forward, looks to get in behind the defense with his pace. Cedrick Mabwati prefers to stay wide, looking to take defenders one v. one.
Larsen's profile is different from any of these players.
"Now with Emil, you have a guy who is also good in the pocket but is good from that pocket, penetrating, both on the dribble and with his passing," Berhalter said.
Finlay started and played every game for the Black & Gold last season on the right wing while Meram line up on the left from the kickoff 82 percent of Columbus' matches in 2015. With Cedrick also looking for minutes, it won't be easy for the staff to keep all the players happy, but there will be opportunity for all four due to international call-ups.
"Let's look at that position," Berhalter said. "So you have Ethan who could potentially be gone. Justin we know is gone. Cedrick we know is gone. So now all of a sudden we're thin. So part of preparing this roster is looking at that, looking at international windows, looking at time missed, looking at national team stuff, and making decisions."
There is also the possibility that Larsen could play centrally if Federico Higuain is not available, but Pipa has been rather consistent over the last two season, playing a combined 61 out of 68 matches.
As for how Larsen will transition from the Superliga to MLS, Crew SC captain Michael Parkhurst, who spent four seasons with Danish club FC Nordsjælland, believes he will be just fine.
"I don't know if Emil's ever been to the states, but I think the size of the country can catch you off guard as far as traveling," he said. "On the field, I think he'll be able to adjust easily. I'm sure he speaks good English, all Danes do. So I think that once he gets used to the traveling part - airplanes, going through airports, delays, all that stuff, playing in humidity and heat. Those are the biggest differences, especially coming from a northern country like Denmark.
"I think Emil is a good, young talent. I think he's going to help the team and we look forward to having him."
As for when Larsen will arrive, it should not be too long until he's a part of the Black & Gold's preseason training.
"We're going to get him here as soon as he gets the P-1 Visa," Berhalter said. "We're going to do that process first and then bring him over and then he's here for good."