Columbus Crew SC lost two of its most productive players for the 2018 MLS season in Ola Kamara and Justin Meram. While the striker’s role is probably going to be filled by Gyasi Zardes, the left-winger spot is still open as the regular season kicks off in less than a month.
Head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter has said the franchise is in the market looking to add one or two offensive pieces and, with a ton of allocation money recently acquired on Meram's and Kamara's trades and one international slot still available, the Black & Gold have the resources to bring a capable replacement for Meram, who scored 14 goals and notched eight assists in 2017.
Crew SC could head in several directions when addressing this need, researching both the national and international markets, and here are a few options the team could consider:
The 22-year-old winger bounced around some Ecuadoran clubs until he became a prominent player for Barcelona SC, leading the team with his speed and dribbling ability to a national title in 2016 and to the semifinals of Copa Libertadores in the following season, when they only lost to eventual champions Grêmio.
The good performances granted Alemán a loan transfer to Argentina’s Estudiantes de la Plata, where he is yet to find his space, recording only five appearances in six months and recently lining up for their reserve team. His rights still belong to Barcelona and he is under contract with Estudiantes until the summer, but according to the local media the Argentineans wouldn’t stand in the way if an offer comes.
The son of former FC Dallas’ head coach Schellas Hyndman, Emerson played in the Texans academy until 2011, when, at the age of 15, he was picked up by English side Fulham. In 2016, he signed with Bournemouth, for which he only played in three cup matches so far. Last year, though, he made a good impression by scoring four goals in 13 matches during a six-month loan with Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.
After his return to Bournemouth, several European teams were rumored to be interested in signing Hyndman, but a deal never happened and he seems destined to be stuck with the English club for a while. A player of the U.S. U-17, U-20 (which he captained), U-23 and senior National Teams, the 21-year-old midfielder could see a move to MLS and Crew SC as a good way to better position himself to be part of the country’s squad as a new roster starts to be built.
Ibarra’s role with Minnesota United is very similar to the one Meram played for Crew SC, by filling the left side and creating scoring chances for both him and his teammates. His 2017 numbers were modest if compared to Meram’s (three goals and four assists in 29 matches), but a change of scenery could be everything he needs to regain his 2014 form, when he was NASL’s MVP and became the first American second division player called to the national team since 2005.
At 27, Ibarra is approaching the pinnacle of his career and has a reasonable salary, reportedly just over $300,000. He was on the trade block this offseason and Crew SC could get him on a discounted price as the start of the season nears. The fact that he wouldn’t take an international slot can even make of him a complementary option to another player.
A veteran with over 200 English Premier League matches played for Arsenal and Manchester City, Nasri became a free agent a few days ago after he was released by Turkish side Antalyaspor, where he scored two goals in eight matches. His resume also includes more than 120 matches for France’s Oympique Marseille and a loan stint in Spain with Sevilla, besides of 11 years with the French National Team, from the U-16 to the senior level.
At the age of 30, Nasri still has a few years in front of him and if he is motivated an could bring part of his dribbling ability, passing accuracy and game vision to the field, he would be a much-welcomed addition to Crew SC. The Frenchman would certainly require a Designated Player contract and it’s not clear if the Black & Gold are in a position where they can buy down one of Federico Higuain, Pedro Santos or new signing Miguel Valenzuela’s salaries with Targeted Allocation Monay to make that happen.
Lee Nguyen has been one of the most productive attacking midfielders in MLS recently, registering 11 goals and 15 assists (good for third best league wide) for the New England Revolution in 2017. He amassed at least 10 assists in each of the last three seasons and is just four years removed from an impressive 20-goal year.
The 31 year old is currently in a tricky situation as he requested a trade and didn’t show up for preseason, but the Revs appear unwilling to let him go. They will have to start listening to offers at some point, though, and Crew SC has a pile of allocation money to persuade them. Nguyen’s primary role is as a No. 10, but he can produce on the wing as well and could be a more-than-adequate replacement for Higuain, who is going to be 34 when the 2018 season ends, in years to come.