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Massive Report Mailbag: What’s the latest with the Crew’s 2022 roster?

We answer your questions in regard to the Black & Gold before the holidays.

SOCCER: JUN 02 MLS - Toronto FC at Columbus Crew Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Well, it’s been nearly a month since I asked for questions from Columbus Crew fans about the offseason. I apologize for taking so long to provide answers. December was a busier than expected month and every time I sat down to crank these out, something came up.

With that said, looking back at the questions readers submitted, many are still relevant, or at least have relevant parts to them that would still be worth answering.

So after 20 or so days, let’s get to it.

I’m going to start with questions I was asked by multiple people offline. They have to do with the offseason re-signings, or re-signings that haven’t happened yet.

As fans will know by now, both goalkeeper Eloy Room and midfielder Pedro Santos each re-signed with the club. Re-signing these two players was at the top of the to-do list for the Crew this offseason and both got done in early December. That’s good work by general manager Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter.

While Room’s stats weren’t as good in 2021 as in 2020 — seven shutouts in 30 games and 39 goals against last year as opposed to seven shutouts in 17 goals and 15 goals conceded the season prior — he is still viewed by those within the Black & Gold organization and others around the league as one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. Fans saw that in 2021 with some of the saves Room made.

At 32, Room is still in his prime for goalkeepers, so it made sense for Columbus to retain him as opposed to starting to look for the next goalkeeper.

As for Santos, he too had a bit of a down year in 2021, but came on late in the season to play well with four goals and six assists. At 33, Santos isn’t getting any younger but his ability to fill in at a variety of spots and the personality he brings to the locker room was too good to pass up. He will likely remain an important part of the Crew’s attack in 2022.

The biggest name who hasn’t been re-signed is Milton Valenzuela. The left back is among the best in the league, when healthy. The issue is has been health for the 23 year old, who has played in 33 games over the last three seasons.

From everything I have heard, Valenzuela will not be back in Columbus next year. Negotiations between the defender and the Black & Gold on a new deal started during the season and were on and off throughout the year. It seems Valenzuela would like to make a move to a bigger club — preferably in Europe — in the near future and that time, he and his agent might think, is now.

The Crew certainly want Valenzuela back. The team’s record is alarmingly better when he plays than when doesn’t. But if the two sides can’t come to a deal — and it doesn’t look like they will unless something changes — there’s not much that can be done.

Since this question was asked, Harrison Afful signed as a free agent with MLS expansion side Charlotte FC, so that’s where he will be in 2022. I was actually surprised, not that he didn’t return to the Crew — there was a clear drop-off in Afful’s ability last year — but that he stayed in the league. I wish Afful nothing but the best as he was a great player and a great guy to get to know during his time in Columbus.

As for the second part of the question, the Black & Gold will definitely need more out of Berry this upcoming season. At the season-ending press conference, Porter called Berry a starter along with Gyasi Zardes. While I don’t believe that will mean more two-forward formations for the Crew as much as Zardes getting more rest throughout the year, Berry will have to build on his eight-goal, two-assist breakout 2021 campaign.

And that will be a big question heading into the new year. Berry did plenty well and deserved this new respect from the coaching staff. Now can he do that, and then some, for the Black & Gold when teams know about him and he isn’t just being used in emergency or late-game situations.

Defenders around MLS will now have a sense of how to handle Berry when facing Columbus. He will be on the scouting report for opposing teams and will have to continue to develop his game beyond what he did last season.

Berry is far from a finished product and has the type of work ethic and passion to get the job done. He also has good role models around him from which to learn.

There seem to be varying opinions on Matan among the Crew fanbase. Let me tell you this, Matan is valued by those that matter within the Black & Gold.

Here’s something to keep in mind, at 21 years old, Matan left his home country for the first time to play for Columbus in the middle of a global pandemic. This is a tough enough transition but then add that his family and his girlfriend weren’t allowed to come to visit him during the 2021 season. The hope is that this won’t be an issue in 2022 and he will be better adjusted to life off the field.

On the field, I don’t think it’s fair to say Matan “failed to make an impact” in 2021. No, he didn’t score a goal or register an assist, but he did play in 28 games, making nine starts, showing that the coaching staff values him quite a bit. If things go differently, as in Matan delivers a slightly better pass or the teammate on the end of the pass finishes the chance at times, Matan’s numbers probably look better.

The winger is one of the few players on the roster willing and able to take on opposing defenders with pace and beat them. That alone makes him valuable. If he can continue to improve the final product, Matan could be in for a breakout season in 2022.

Given what I mentioned above about Valenzuela, finding a talented left back should be priority No. 1 for the Crew. Given the way the Black & Gold play, overlapping fullbacks are important and right now, there isn’t that on the roster. Santos can play there, but that’s not why Columbus re-signed the Portuguese playmaker.

I think after that the Crew need, in no particular order, another center back, a winger or two and a forward.

While Josh Williams is still quality, he will be 34 early in the season and may not be able to play a full season alongside Jonathan Mensah. Finding another player with experience will be important.

Not counting Kevin Molino, who likely will be out until mid-summer after tearing his ACL in August, the Black & Gold have four wingers on the roster. Given Santos’ age and the fact that Matan and Luis Diaz are still developing, another winger to at least add depth would be ideal.

In terms of a forward, I would not be surprised to see Columbus use its early MLS SuperDraft pick on the position and look to develop another player like Berry. This has been a useful tactic in the past for a player in this position who won’t be expected to play a ton of minutes but could step in if needed. There are also a number of MLS veteran free agents that could be interesting at the right price.

As for Keita, who I wanted to talk about separately, I think this is a big year for the center back. I don’t believe the Crew are confident enough in him, given his erratic performances over his first three professional seasons, for him to be the primary backup to Jonathan and Williams but hope he can get there. Given that he is still on a Homegrown contract, it makes sense to keep Keita on the roster, but he needs to start playing consistently when given opportunities at the MLS level sooner rather than later.

If you’re still waiting for another rebrand to happen, I think you will be waiting quite a while. My understanding is there will be no such thing taking place any time soon.

The Crew front office made adjustments to the originally released logo to appease fans and this is what’s going to stick around for the foreseeable future. Look no further than the new Crew 2 logo as an example of this being a long-term plan.

I am not a fan of the new logo and believe it was a mistake for the new ownership group to change something that didn’t need fixing. With that said, I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s not going anywhere. If you don’t want to buy merchandise with the rebranded logo on it, I understand and there are plenty of alternative options out there.