The last several weeks since the end of the MLS regular season and the first offseason moves provided some good information about what Columbus Crew SC’s roster might look like in 2020. Between several players departing, including a club legend, others getting extensions and a millionaire signing, the Black & Gold have positioned themselves to continue the roster revamp that started during summer.
Columbus currently has 19 players under contract for 2020, leaving plenty of room for new additions. While some areas of the roster seem to be in good shape, with just minor adjustments needed, others will probably see massive changes in the upcoming weeks.
Here is, position by position, how I read the Crew’s roster right now:
Eloy Room came in during last season and quickly established himself as the starting goalkeeper for the Crew. That is unlikely to change in 2020. Jon Kempin was Room’s primary backup after Joe Bendik was traded during the season. Given that Ben Lundgaard had his contract option declined, the Black & Gold need at least one more piece here – but will most likely get two. I expect the Crew to sign either a veteran on a friendly contract or a young, promising player to be the team’s third goalkeeper and to acquire a fourth option, which would probably be loaned out during the season, in the MLS SuperDraft.
The team’s three most active fullbacks during the 2019 season will all be back as Harrison Afful just got a new deal while Hector Jimenez and Waylon Francis both had their contract options picked up. Considering the Crew has two more options already confirmed for the positions with Milton Valenzuela returning from a season-ending injury and Chris Cadden already signed, there’s probably nothing more to be done here. Connor Maloney is currently out of contract and considering how well he played at the end of the season, the idea of bringing him back is not absurd, but it would require the club having a roster spot and budget space to spare and him willing to potentially not even seeing the field as there will presumably be five players ahead of him in the pecking order.
Only three center backs are currently guaranteed with the Crew in 2020 – Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams and Aboubacar Keita. Gaston Sauro was transferred to a Mexican club last summer, Alex Crognale didn’t have his contract option picked up by the club and Lalas Abubakar was recently traded to the Colorado Rapids. I’d expect head coach Caleb Porter to have five center backs to work with in 2020, so I’d think the Crew adds a couple of players here. I'd expect a starting-caliber addition, someone who can compete with Williams for the starting spot alongside Jonathan. Porter has stated the importance in having a left-footed center back, so that could be the type of player the team is looking for. Keita could win the job, but this is not something Porter is relying on at this point. With that in mind, odds are the fifth center back is a young, up-and-coming player, so he doesn't take playing time of Keita.
This is an area that is already filled with starting-caliber options. Ricardo Clark and David Guzman are both gone, but Artur and Will Trapp will be back and will be joined by the recently-signed Darlington Nagbe. It's unclear if Porter plans on using all three together or just two of them at a time, but either way, he has plenty of options to work with already. A fourth player will probably be needed here, especially considering Trapp has already generated interest overseas and that he’s often called up to the U.S Men’s National Team, but it could probably be a backup-level addition for the club.
This is where the most drastic change in the Crew’s roster will take place next season. Longtime starter and club legend Federico Higuain is gone and so is Eduardo Sosa, who never proved he could be a solid backup for Pipa. Pedro Santos stepped up last year and filled the position nicely, but he’ll most likely return to the wings in 2020. Nagbe is potentially an option here too, but the Black & Gold are already in the market for a Designated Player-caliber No. 10 and likely for a backup too. Expect to see more dynamic, fast-paced players added here, as both Porter and team president Tim Bezbatchenko indicated a desire for a change of playing style next season.
There should be good competition for the starting winger spots in 2020 as Santos will be used there again and both Luis Diaz and Youness Mohktar should improve after arriving midseason in 2019. From the current roster, Cadden and even Jimenez can all spent some time at the position too, which leaves the Crew in decent shape. But considering scoring was the team’s biggest problem last season, I expect another piece to be added here. Fourth-round draft pick Rafael Mentzingen can be signed after spending last season in the USL, but odds are a player with more firepower should also be in the radar here.
Gyasi Zardes will be the starting striker for the Crew for the third-straight season, but everyone behind him is a big question mark. JJ Williams will be back after he performed well while on loan, but he doesn’t seem ready to be Zardes’ primary backup just yet. Romario Williams and Jordan Hamilton were considered, but not neither was brought back. The piece the Black & Gold are looking for here is someone who can not only replace Zardes when needed, but also challenge him for the starting spot and eventually play alongside him in specific situations.