On Tuesday, Andrew King of MLSsoccer.com reported that Columbus Crew SC sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhatler spoke with CF Pachuca and former LA Galaxy center-back Omar Gonzalez about returning to Major League Soccer and joining the Black & Gold while he was in town with the U.S. National Team.
A Crew SC spokesperson told King that the meeting was “social,” but Massive Report can confirm that the talks were more than just casual conversation between Berhalter and Gonzalez.
A central defender may seem like a luxury for Columbus, who has Gaston Sauro, Nicolai Næss and potentially Michael Parkhurst as starting-level MLS center backs, but a source close to the team has given reason for these talks.
The club has significant concerns about the long-term heath of Sauro’s knee. The defender missed 21 games in 2016, partially due to a PCL injury.
Because of this new information, Crew SC is concerned about the center-back position. If Sauro is unable to play consistently, as has been an issue over his first two years with Columbus, the Black & Gold need a replacement.
While Parkhurst has been a starter over his three years with the club, there is a difference of opinion on his ability to remain at that level. The center back, who turns 33 years old in January, believes he is still capable of starting regularly in MLS and is looking for that opportunity.
According to the source, talks have already worked to trade Parkhurst’s rights, meaning Crew SC are certainly in need of a new center back. This is why Berhalter has turned to his former Galaxy teammate.
Since leaving LA following the 2015 season, Gonzalez has featured regularly for Pachuca, including winning the Liga MX title last season. He remains under contract with the Mexican side, meaning the Black & Gold would likely have to pay a transfer fee for the defender.
There is also a matter of allocation process, as Gonzalez is national team player and would therefore fall under that process of re-entry to MLS. Once the year flips to 2017, the order will reset and Columbus will hold the fifth spot in the allocation order behind the two expansion clubs, the Chicago Fire and the Houston Dynamo.
We’ve seen in the past, most recently with the Philadelphia Union’s signing of Alejandro Bedoya, the ability for MLS clubs to move up the allocation order, but it will cost Crew SC.
Gonzalez, who is a very capable defender and would fit the Black & Gold’s possession style, would be a big addition for the club that has averaged 51 goals per season under Berhalter.
Sauro and Næss were expected to be the future of the back line, and the team has certainly been better defensively when the Argentinian has played, but a consistent knee issue is a major issue and cannot be taken lightly.
As we learn more information on this move, Massive Report will keep you up to date.