The plan for Columbus Crew SC in 2017 was to improve defensively. The Black & Gold made numerous changes in the offseason to help in that department.
Despite conceding four goals in the opening two matches, Crew SC Designated Player Jonathan Mensah appears to be adjusting to life in the center of defense and transitioning to Major League Soccer after missing most of the preseason.
“One or more of (our players) are going to have to step in,” head coach Gregg Berhalter said this week. “So we’ll have someone ready.”
Because of the offseason additions, Crew SC have a number of options to replace Jonathan.
“We have personnel, Berhalter said. ”What I’d say is that, with the exception of Josh Williams, the other guys aren’t tested. We may think they’re at a certain level, but only the game’s going to tell.”
Williams, an eight-year MLS veteran, is the most experienced of the group. Now in his second stint with the Black & Gold, he played with New York City FC and Toronto FC the last two seasons, he is the only of the three options to have played in a professional game.
“Experience will play a part,” Williams said. “If Gregg calls on me, I’ll try to use that experience.
Despite not having made an appearance this season, or even made the 18-man game-day roster, Williams is confident he will be ready to step right in if he is chosen.
“You basically prepare like you’re starting,” he explained of his approach. “I’ve done that throughout my career. Every game I’ve started, and even when I’m not, if I’m on the bench, I still try to take the mentality that I’m playing. So everyday at training we try to take one training at a time.”
Beyond Williams are two rookies, first-round draft pick Lalas Abubakar and Homegrown product Alex Crognale. Both are talented, but neither have played more than a friendly or reserve game.
“They’re progressing,” Berhalter said of the rookie defenders. “They’ve been coming along well, they’ve been working hard. So now it’s about seeing it in the game. And that’s with any rookie.”
For Abubakar, who made the bench for the first time against the Dynamo, this week presents an opportunity for an MLS debut.
“I’m looking forward to this week,” he said on Monday. “Whether I’m in the starting lineup or in the 18 or even not in the 18, I’ll try and push the team, help the team. Whatever position the coaches give me, I’ll do my best to help the team to win the game on Saturday.”
Like the others, Crognale, who practiced with the team after graduating from the Academy throughout his four years at Maryland, feels prepared to step in and make his debut if he is selected.
“That’s our job is to stay (prepared) and I think I’ve done that and I think the coaching staff has done a good job to make sure that we’re all prepared that when our number is called, we’re ready to go,” he explained.
From one perspective, Crew SC are going against a United team that is yet to score a goal on the season, perhaps making it easier on a new member of the back line. From another, maybe D.C. is due.
“It’s a small sample size,” Berhalter said.
“I think their top four, how they work are interesting. I think they pose a lot of problems with their variation, with their movement off the ball.”
With Jonathan out, Columbus needs a defender to step up. Thanks to the offseason moves, Crew SC have increased the depth and should be prepared to handle the suspension of the team’s stater.
Now the question is, who?