It’s been a long and traumatic 17 months of uncertainty for fans of Columbus Crew SC. But after lengthy drama that rivals Hollywood, soccer will be played in Central Ohio this season. The Black & Gold have new owners in Pete Edwards and Dee and Jimmy Haslam, a new coach in Caleb Porter and a number of new faces in the front office. A new era emerges for the Crew as the team prepares for a rebirth this season.
While many things changed off the pitch during the offseason, the Columbus roster experienced little turnover. With a new coaching staff in place, players have to prove themselves to a new crop of coaches. Let’s take a look at the three players to watch under Porter and his new staff during the 2019 season.
The 2018 season proved to be a career year for the forward. He thrived within former head coach Gregg Berhalter’s offensive system, scoring 19 goals in 33 games. That proved a career high for the 27-year-old forward and beat his combined goal total from the previous three seasons.
The hope is that the production will not change under the direction of Porter. In the past, Porter proved successful with center forwards. Former Portland Timbers and current FC Cincinnati striker Fanendo Adi thrived under Porter during his tenure in Portland.
During the 2016 season, Adi scored 16 goals in 33 games. Porter utilized Adi frequently through the air or with his back to goal. While Zardes doesn’t have the same height as Adi — he’s giving three inches — he does possess similar, maybe better, athleticism. Given this, Zardes poses more of a threat in the final third. It isn’t unrealistic to think that he could match our exceed his production from 2018 under the watchful eye of the new Crew head coach.
There’s no doubt that Federico Higuain is an important cog in the Crew offense and has been for sometime. Despite being 34 years old, the midfielder continues to perform well on the pitch, wowing spectators with his Soccer IQ and vision on the pitch.
It doesn’t appear that Pipa will suffer a dip in form with the arrival of Porter. Similar to Higuain, Porter utilized midfielder Diego Valeri in a similar way during his career in Portland. While Valeri was utilized more as secondary forward than Higuain has been, the midfielder was tasked with the job of being lifeblood of the Timbers’ offense.
In 2017, Porter’s final season in Portland, Valeri thrived in Porter’s system. He was lethal on the attack, scoring 21 goals on 93 shots in route to the 2017 MLS MVP award. Higuain is already well established in Columbus, but look for him to ascend to greater heights in 2019.
It isn’t unrealistic to think that the 20-year-old left back could be the next money-making transfer for Columbus in the future. The Young Designated Player made an impact in the Crew attack during his first year, even scoring a goal against D.C. United.
Offensive fullbacks aren’t a new trend in Porter’s offense. During the 2015 season, left back Jorge Villafana performed well throughout the Timbers’ MLS Cup run in 2015 and was rewarded with a lucrative contract after transferring to Liga MX.
Expect Valenzuela to continue his first-year success in Porter’s offense and play a big role in supporting the attack. Should he have a big 2019 season, it isn’t unrealistic to think he could be the next big transfer for the Crew.