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Depth Struggles to Get in the Lineup for Columbus Crew SC

Should fans blame the failure of some players to succeed with the Black & Gold on lack of an opportunity?

When the transfer window opens at the beginning of July, Columbus Crew SC has plenty of options. After trading forward Kei Kamara in May, the Black & Gold have plenty of resources to bring in at least one player and a Designated Player slot available.

Recently, head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter was asked about how different Crew SC could look in a couple months.

"It’s hard to tell," he said, "but I would say we’ll probably look a little bit different."

With the money and space available, along with a rash of injuries that have crept up recently, Berhalter said he would like to find a player or players that can contribute right away.

"It may be a combination, but we’d certainly like to add someone that can help from a performance standpoint immediately as well," the head coach said.

Midfielder Dilly Duka was brought in earlier this week, but according to Berhalter, he is likely to be just the start. While the goal is always to bring in a player to make an impact, that does not always work out.

"What I would say is, any time you’re bringing in a player, there’s risk and what you want to do is minimize that risk," Berhalter said. "Having said that, you still have to accept that you’re going to fail on some of these and that’s part of the business. To me, you try and make as educated decision as you can make, you try to gather as much information as you [can], and you want to have the right profile. But we also accept failure in some cases in some transfers and that’s just part of it."

This is a very realistic view of the transfer market; sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss. During his tenure with Crew SC, Behalter has had a mixed bag of results. While the players he’s brought in to make an immediate impact have generally done well, many of those that were set to "compete for starting spots" have struggled to find time.

"Last year we brought in Gaston, Harrison, and Cedrick and they made a big impact," Berhalter said.

Gaston Sauro and Harrison Afful were both brought in last season and expected to start quickly. Center back and right back were positions of need for Columbus — center back due to the failed signing of Emmanuel Pogatetz — and these two are certainly success stories.

Winger Cedrick Mabwati on the other hand has made just 17 appearances (three starts) in nearly a year with the Black & Gold. When he was signed in January of 2015 (Cedrick couldn’t join Crew SC until July), Berhalter already had two starting wingers in Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay and since that point, Cedrick has struggled to find many minutes (465).

There are two examples this year of players brought in that aren’t seeing the field. Defender Amro Tarek joined the club on loan this offseason, but played sparingly behind Sauro, Michael Parkhurst, and Tyson Wahl despite a struggling back line. Tarek asked for and was granted his release in early May.

Midfielder Emil Larsen is another instance. Although Berhalter stated in the preseason that the new addition would challenge for a starting spot at one of the three attacking midfield positions, the Dane has played a total of 31 minutes in three games and is continuously overlooked.

"What I think is, it increases the competition," Berhalter said when asked what the Duka signing means for Larsen. "Any time you increase the competition, guys have to raise their level. If they can do that, they’ll be fine."

Reports suggest that due to his lack of opportunities, Larsen will be headed back to his home country once the transfer window opens.

Aside from Finlay, and to some extent Meram, it has been tough for any player not established to break into the starting lineup since Berhalter took over. While the team’s success over the last two seasons is a part of the lineup consistency, a coach that preaches competition in practice and players earning their spots hasn’t changed the lineup sheet much. Recently, Berhalter has removed Finlay and left back Waylon Francis from the starting 11, as he is looking for positive results in a tough year.

Questions still remain though. Are these depth players just not earning spots over established starters?  Are they not being given the chance to supplant those in front of them? Are those already in starting roles being given too long a leash? Most importantly, what will this mean for players like Duka and future signings?