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How does Nicolai Naess’ departure impact Columbus Crew SC’s defensive depth?

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Even with only for center backs available, Berhalter feels comfortable with his options.

MLS: FC Dallas at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC completed arguably a good deal by selling center back Nicolai Naess to Dutch club SC Heerenveen. According to a report from Andrew Erickson of The Columbus Dispatch, the Black & Gold doubled its investment in Naess with this transfer.

That sounds like a really prolific deal, especially for a player that clearly wasn’t part of the club’s short-term plans, starting only five of the last 15 matches, and also one the club always planned to move. However, how does Naess’ departure impacts Crew SC’s defensive depth?

With the Norwegian out of the picture, the Black & Gold now have Designated Player Jonathan Mensah, veteran Josh Williams, Homegrown rookie Alex Crognale and 2017 first-round draft pick Lalas Abubakar available for the center back positions.

In most cases, having four center backs in a roster could look dangerous, especially for a team that sometimes adopts a three-man backline, but that’s not the case for Crew SC. At least according to head coach Gregg Berhalter.

“We had five center backs and we could play with three in the back, so it was important to have five,” he said. “Through the course of the year we’ve got to see them all performing. Lalas was the last step that made us very comfortable with the fact that these four center backs can give us all we need to close out the year and move in to playoffs. So that made the move, although difficult, much more palatable.”

Indeed, Crew SC recently has switched back to its traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, making the 3-4-3 formation a secondary option, as Berhalter hinted in his comments. However, if one of the starters gets injured or is suspended, the team will have only one extra option to use.

In case of emergency, Berhalter can also use of the fullbacks more centrally, especially on a three-man backline. Jukka Raitala, the tallest of Crew SC fullbacks at 5-foot-11, and Hector Jimenez, arguably the most versatile of them, seem to be the most obvious choices.

For next season, though, the Black & Gold might have Argentinean Gaston Sauro back. Sidelined by multiple injuries on his left knee, the 27-year-old defender could become one more option in 2018 if he stays in Columbus.