It was a season to forget in so many ways, but the staff came up with a few bright spots during the season. A few players impressed on a team with so much disappointment. Here are the Massive Report picks for Team MVP.
Pat Murphy - Gaston Sauro
Let's be frank here, Crew SC's defense was not good yet again in 2016. But in the 10 games where Sauro started and contributed (I'm not including the two games he was hurt and played 25 and 35 minutes respectively), the Black & Gold only conceded 10 goals. Without Sauro, Columbus gave up 48 goals in 24 games. If you do the math, the Crew SC defense is twice as good with Gaston on the field than when he's not. We've heard how good he is, but that's putting it on paper. The Black & Gold are bad on defense or they just didn't have their best defensive player for over half of the season?
Patrick Guldan - Justin Meram
I'll be honest, it took me a long time to see the value that Meram brought to the team. Early in his career he looked lost on the wing after playing forward in college. He'd rely on that cutting in right footed shot, "The meathook" a little too often. It would test keepers, but he never really could consistently contribute. It took until midway through the 2014 season, but Meram finally was the starter and became more than the guy with the long range shot.
That slow evolution paid off as this year Meram set career highs in appearances, starts, minutes, and assists. Without Federico Higuain, he took on the mantle of creator with 13 assists. Few players on the team have the desire to have the ball at their feet and a defender in front of them. He relishes those opportunities. Now he's picking up his head more often and making the right decision. He still might try to make something happen, but often he'll make the defense splitting pass. This is in addition to his often overlooked defense. Few left wingers in MLS are as complete as Meram. His 2016 was a culmination of 5 year soccer education in Columbus.
Andrew Todd-Smith - Steve Clark
Columbus Crew SC's offense struggled all year to convert chances into goals. Crew SC took the fifth most shots, but had the 9th best scoring record in the league. An offense built around height and crosses, Columbus also took a league-leading 200 corner kicks, struggled after Kei Kamara departed for New England.
This dismal year could have been far worse had goalkeeper Steve Clark not come through with acrobatic saves almost every match. The defense would largely play well and then make one or two crucial errors that tended to lead to transitional chances for the opposition, leaving the Black & Gold on the wrong end of a deficit after otherwise strong work by an injury-riddled back line.
Clark notched 112 saves and did his part to stanch the bleeding of a campaign in which the Crew SC attack was rarely doing him any supporting favors. Those eight wins are tougher if he's absent, and draws likely become losses but for Clark's contributions as an assertive and aggressive keeper. If it sounds strange to endorse the efforts of a guy who let in 51 goals, it shouldn't; the rest of the team wasn't helping him out by defending the counter and scoring some of its own, all while Clark was turning in highlight-worthy saves week after week to keep his team competitive.
Nathanial Marhefka - Nico Næss
Come the end of the season I believe he was our best player down the final stretch. While Justin Meram is a very close #2 choice for me, Næss takes it as he, in my mind, is the most “valuable” asset. While the defense was nonetheless shaky throughout the season, Næss’ individual contributions were superb after his arrival. Central defenders in this team have probably the second-toughest task (bar, keeping) as terrible team defending is a persistent issue. A lot is asked of the center backs to come up big; particularly so in breakaway situations. Næss’ ambition, determination, technical ability, and passing range set him apart for me as the most valuable asset on the team going forward. He would the first name I confirm on the draft protected list and thus deserving of the MVP award.
Sam Fahmi - Justin Meram
The definition of team MVP is someone who makes the team better when on the field and his absence is felt when off. Meram, while not having a major scoring season, showed his value is providing assists and playing excellent defense on game in and game out. Did he have a consistent season? No, but he was more consistent than many on the 2016 Crew SC roster. Meram developed a different part of his game this year and that will help him to be a more complete player in the long run.
Kris Landis - Justin Meram
Team MVP in such a disappointing season is a hard award to give out. Ola Kamara was the obvious candidate, and I assume he'll get most of the votes, so I am going to offer a dissenting opinion. I believe Justin Meram was the best player for Crew SC this year. He's my team MVP.
Meram takes a lot of slack for his attitude and demeanor, but he brings (brought?) something to this team that it was lacking. While the other wingers have more pace, Meram brought that ability to take on defenders in 1v1 situations that his fellow wide players often lacked. He also provided several key elements that don't necessarily show on a stat sheet: movement, creativity, and above all, defensive effort. Sometimes his decision making lets him down (and, I'd argue, this is his only real hurdle to being a truly elite MLS player), he still is, to my mind, one of the best players to grace a Crew kit in the last six years. He while some claim, for whatever reasons, that he has an attitude problem, in all my interactions with him I've only known him to be a funny, sincere, and above all humble guy, and the epitome of what I'd want representing my city and club.
Josh Mlot - Justin Meram
Entering the season there was some question about Meram's future with the club, and he wasn't a starter for the first couple of weeks. I think that made it even clearer how important he was/is to the team's attack. Just about every other spot on the field had some sort of change or question mark at some point in the season, but Meram was always there (only captain Michael Parkhurst played more minutes among field players ... which is another feather in the cap of Meram's development this season, because fitness has long been a question with him). With Federico Higuain seemingly fading a little and then dealing with injury issues, Meram became the only player in the lineup that could add a creative dash to the attack. He is not perfect and doesn't always make the best decision, but he is good on the ball and comfortable in tight spaces in a way no one else on the team is. Not to mention, he has always been willing to work back and offer some defensive support on the left wing.
I'm not sure if he'll remain with the club after this season, as there will absolutely be changes and he may be a guy who has suitors, but it's been fun to watch his development through the last three or four years. I'll give a nod to Ola Kamara's goals-scoring rate, but in my mind no player was consistently better than Meram was in a dismal 2016.
Matt Weisgarber - Steve Clark
Berhalter's system is so offensively tilted its nearly impossible to pick a defensive MVP. But a closer look at Clark's stats paint an important picture. He was 5th in the league in shut outs and 4th in the league in saves. Considering the porous defense these are impressive stats. Without Clark's shot stopping ability Columbus Crew SC likely isn't competitive in most of the games this year. Nordecke likes to chant "Steve says no!" But when it comes to team MVP, Steve most certainly says "yes".
J. Daniel Rollins - Ola Kamara
Ola isn’t the Kamara Crew SC fans thought would be the team leader in goals when the season began, but he inherited the weight of Columbus when Kei Kamara was traded mid-season. The 27-year old Norwegian scored an impressive 16 goals in 25 appearances, ten goals more than second-leading scorer Ethan Finlay in ten fewer games. There wasn’t much to be celebrated with Columbus in 2016 — a dreadful defense, a less than stellar season in goal from Steve Clark, injuries galore and the aforementioned Kei Kamara trade in the fallout of his feud with Federico Higuain — but Ola Kamara stepped up and showed he was ready to lead the squad when called upon. His hat trick against Salt Lake stands out as one of the few highlights of a forgettable season.
Massive Report's Team MVP - Justin Meram (4 votes)
Also receiving votes - Steve Clark (2), Ola Kamara (1), Nico Naess (1), Gaston Sauro (1)