On Monday, the Crew completed a trade with Atlanta United for forward Romario Williams, sending $100,000 in General Allocation Money the other way. The club followed that move up on Tuesday by signing Costa Rican winger Luis Diaz from C.S. Herediano, reportedly in a $1 million deal.
When asked about these two additions, head coach Caleb Porter wanted to make one thing clear: these acquisitions were not made due to the Black & Gold’s recent struggles in form. The Crew planned to upgrade the roster even before the season began.
“The first thing that’s important to say is these signings aren’t reactionary signings,” he said. “They’ve got nothing to do with how we’ve done. We were always going to look to get better, even when we’re winning every game. In this league, you have to get better in every transfer window.”
Ideally, Porter would like there to be little to no drop-off when he needs to go from his regular starters to his backups, be it due to rotation or players missing time. Columbus plans to consistently bring in starting-caliber players that increase the level in training and raise the overall talent of the team.
The additions of Williams and Diaz begin to provide that type of depth for the Crew. They also fit the type of profile the Black & Gold want to bring in at either position.
At forward, Porter wants a player that either runs in behind the defense or can hold the ball up for the front line and help bring other players into the attack. The striker also has to work hard as the first line of defense.
Most importantly, the No. 9 needs to be a threat to score goals.
“You have to threaten and occupy and engage the center backs,” Porter said of the position. “Of course, you have to score goals but it’s more than that. You’re the first line of pressure, so you have to be athletic enough to squeeze the center backs and apply pressure and make them predictable. And then in the attack, you have to be involved in the build-up.
Despite having only played 21 Major League Soccer games in four years in the league, Williams, a Jamaican international, checks all of those boxes for the Crew.
“Romario brings the profile that we’re looking for,” Porter said. “When Gyasi’s gone or when we need to rotate, we need to make sure that we’re still able to score goals, able to play well and able to win games and we’ve not done that.”
Williams, who is already in Columbus but cannot play until the transfer window officially opens, will compete with Patrick Mullins and rookie JJ Williams, neither of whom has scored yet for the Crew this year, for that secondary forward role behind Zardes.
Diaz also fits the role of one of the types of wingers the Black & Gold desires.
“We like one winger who is more of a penetrating winger,” Porter explained. “A guy that runs behind, a guy that’s going to create through physical presence, athleticism, stretch.
“With (David) Accam, we obviously brought in that type of guy but he’s not going to be with us at the end of the year and obviously he’s injured right now. So we want to continue to build our depth with that profile on one of the wings.”
In the preseason, Porter discussed adding a player of this skill set, someone who could stretch and get behind the defense, helping to open space and get on the end of passes. Accam has played well for the Crew in that role since coming over from the Philadelphia Union but is headed to MLS expansion side Nashville FC after the season. Robinho was acquired in the offseason but has failed to impress consistently despite two assists on the year.
Diaz is a player that the Black & Gold hope can be an answer in this role for the present and the future.
“We’re real excited to have him because he’s 20 years old and he’s a real talent,” Porter said. “He’s an asset. He’s certainly going to need some time to continue to develop because he’s 20 years old but he’s already played a lot of first-team games. So it’s not like he’s a 20 year old that’s never played. He’s a 20 year old that’s played consistently in the first division and with a good club and shown that he can do it.
“There’s some polishing still in his game. He will definitely be a threat right away and he’ll definitely be a guy that will look to run behind and create problems. Teams are going to have to worry about him. The end product, the crossing and the finishing, all that stuff, we’ll continue to work on. But at 20 years old, you can develop guys.”
What might be the most exciting aspect of the Crew’s acquisition of these two players is their youth. Despite playing professionally for five seasons and making 14 appearances for Jamaica’s national team, Williams will be just 25 in August. Diaz, who played 66 games in Liga de Futbol de Primera Division, the top league in Costa Rica, and is already a fringe national team player, is, as Porter noted, just 20 years old.
These moves are indicative of how the Black & Gold want to operate going forward, finding young, exciting talent to bring to the club and looking to develop those players.
“I think what I like too about the statement it makes is they’re both young players. So we need to get younger,” Porter said of Williams and Diaz. “This cycle with this (current) group is going to end at some point. Whether it’s the end of this year or midseason or next year, but there’s going to be an end of the cycle. So we need always to be building in the pipeline players that can succeed other players.
“I love the statement it makes. We’re going to bring in guys, young talent, guys with energy and guys that fit our profile and vision.”
There’s no disputing it, the Crew has been disappointing in 2019. But regardless of what happened on the field, the plan was always to add talent and make this team better. Additions such as Williams and Diaz are the beginning, the tip of the iceberg.
The Black & Gold will continue to be active during the summer window, looking to add another attacking midfielder and a goalkeeper.
These first moves though, speak to what this club hopes to be in the future and the way the team will be built in order to be a competitive side and, as Porter said in his introductory press conference, win championships in Major League Soccer.
“We’re going to keep building,” Porter said. “We’re going to keep growing and I’m always going to look to get better, no matter what’s happening.”