It’s crazy to say it, but the offseason is almost over. Columbus Crew SC is wrapping up its preseason and returns to Major League Soccer action on March 3 at Toronto FC.
Because the season is less than a week and a half away, we begin taking a look at what the Black & Gold will look like in 2018 and our expectations. But first we begin by looking back and grading each offseason move.
Perhaps the surprise of the preseason for Crew SC has been the rookie midfielder out of Wake Forest. Argudo has played more minutes than expected from a third-round pick under head coach Gregg Berhalter and looked good doing it.
Assuming Argudo makes the final roster, which seems like a safe bet at this point, he will provide depth on the wings and could be a factor for the Black & Gold in 2018.
The MLS veteran was signed as a free agent on Feb. 2. At 35 years old, Clark does not have the legs he once did to roam the midfield, but still can make an impact for Crew SC. He gives Berhalter another option in the center of the field when dealing with injuries or suspensions and provides some very good experience to a relatively young group.
Until the salary figures are produced by the MLS Players Union, we won’t know how good of a deal this is, but it’s likely that Clark is playing for relatively a cheap fee.
All in all, this seems like a good signing for the team, but not one that’s going to make or break the season.
Yes, the Brazilian midfielder was a part of Crew SC a year ago, but that was on loan. In early December, the Black & Gold made the move full time, completing the biggest priority of the offseason.
In 2017, Artur appeared in 27 games for Columbus — 20 starts — and was a key cog in the midfield alongside Wil Trapp. That partnership should continue this season as Artur, just 21 years old, continues to blossom into one of MLS’s top central midfielders.
When Crew SC traded a 2019 second-round draft pick to the Colorado Rapids for Grella in mid-December, it seemed like a depth addition for the Black & Gold. Fast forward a few months and Grella could be a starter on the wing for Columbus following the departure of Justin Meram to Orlando City SC.
The one problem is Grella’s health. The winger suffered a knee injury last July and is still working his way back. If healthy, Grella could be an important piece to Crew SC’s midfield in 2018, but having not seen him in preseason, it’s tough to make an accurate call on how this trade grades out. Still, giving up a second-round draft pick for a 31 year old with 16 goals and 13 assists in three MLS seasons is pretty good.
Following the 2017 season, both Crew SC backup goalkeepers departed. Although Logan Ketterer eventually returned, the need for goalkeeper depth was apparent. Berhalter took care of that in a Dec. 13 trade with the LA Galaxy that saw Kempin come to Columbus for a fourth-round pick.
The Black & Gold have the team’s starter in Zack Steffen, but the 22 year old is now in the U.S. Men’s National Team picture and could miss time. There’s also the possibility of injury. Crew SC now has a reliable backup with 13 MLS starts and two shoutouts under his belt.
Despite already having three goalkeepers on the roster, Crew SC selected Lundgaard in the first round of the SuperDraft in January. This was a head-scratching move given the depth at the position and one many are still questioning.
Could Columbus roster four keepers in 2018? Possibly, but that roster spot could likely be used elsewhere. What Lundgaard’s addition does allow, assuming he makes the final roster, is an even number of shot stoppers, making practice drills easier for Berhalter and his staff.
Without having seen much of Lundgaard, who played four years for Virginia Tech, it’s too tough to grade this move right now.
Opoku, a second-round draft pick out of Virginia and a Generation Adidas product, is another young winger Crew SC added to its roster. After making 53 appearances and registering 16 goals and nine assists at UVA, Opoku has looked good in preseason action, already getting on the stat sheet with a goal and an assist.
Like Niko Hansen a year ago, Opoku could work his way into the mix on the wing if he can continue his promising start to his professional career.
For some time now, Crew SC has been looking for the heir apparent to Federico Higuain. Someone who can not only take his place once the Argentinian retires, but also replace him in the lineup at times throughout the season. The Black & Gold believe they’ve found that in Sosa.
The question now, in grading this deal, is if the 21-year-old Venezuelan, who was signed from Zamora FC on Jan. 9, can be that guy. Through the first few preseason games, it appears he can. Sosa has shown good movement and demonstrated his ability to find his teammates in good spots. While it will likely take him time to adjust to MLS — his first playing outside of Venezuela — Sosa can learn from Higuain and fill in when necessary, allowing the older playmaker time to rest.
After Crew SC moved both of the team’s left backs from a year ago — Waylon Francis and Jukka Raitala — the position was certainly an area of need. Valenzuela was signed from Newell’s Old Boys on Jan. 25 to help fill that role.
When added, Berhalter said Valenzuela was more defensive, in terms of how he was used previously, than other left backs the team had. Through his first few preseason games, though, the 19 year old demonstrated he has the capabilities to get forward and be a part of the attack, which will be required in Columbus’ system.
Like with any young international player, there could be an adjustment period for Valenzuela, but he is expected to be the team’s starting left back and appears fit to fill that role.
When Crew SC announced the team traded want-away striker Ola Kamara to the LA Galaxy in return for allocation money and Zardes, many Black & Gold fans were not pleased. Zardes’ MLS goal total was the same as Kamara’s but the Norwegian striker did it in less than half the games.
While Zardes was not initially received with much acclaim, the tone has changed since fans have watched him in preseason. Like Kamara, Zardes is scoring goals in Columbus’ attacking system, and doing so in different ways. If he can continue that form into the regular season, Crew SC should be just fine with their starting striker.
Considering the Black & Gold also received $400,000 — which could increase by $100,000 — for Kamara, this appears to be a solid move by the club.