Michael Jordan once said, during an old Air Jordan commercial: “What is love? Love is playing every game as if it’s your last”. Now perhaps it’s bad form to talk about a Chicago legend in an article about Columbus, but I think this quote sums up the 2018 Crew season. For almost the entire season, every story about the Crew focused on Anthony Precourt shuttering the team and moving the franchise to Austin. This left many wondering if 2018 would be the last season of MLS in Columbus.
But this move was not written in stone and the heroic efforts of the fan fueled #SaveTheCrew movement rallied to stop the move.
During it all, the Crew continued to play the entertaining possession-based style of soccer that Greg Berhalter set them up to play. They made the playoffs, survived the knockout round, but ultimately did not win MLS Cup. Still, keeping the team in Columbus has to be seen as a huge victory.
Tactics & Key Players
A quick summary of the Berhalter Crew system goes something like this: play from the back, spread the field, look for the diagonal pass to break the lines, and then push into the final third. However Berhalter is no longer with the Crew and it would be foolish to think new head coach Caleb Porter will make no changes. Here’s the plan from the man himself:
…I very much want to play in a dominant way, I always have, that’s my preferred way. To play what I call dominant football, which means you’re in the front half, you have control of the ball, you counter press and lock teams in and get on top of teams. That’s what we’ll do and the team is built to do that. System wise, I play 4-2-3-1 as well.
Goalkeeper: Zack Steffen will continue starting in goal but don’t expect him to be around after July when he leaves to join Manchester City. This leaves the position open and if preseason is any judge of the front runner, Jon Kempin could be the replacement and is super cheap!
Defenders: Expect a bit of shifting on defense this year due to player competition and early injuries. The easy lock is Harrison Afful on the right. In the middle, Jonathan Mensah and Gaston Sauro look set to start the year as the pairing but expect Lalas Abubakar to push hard for his share of minutes. Leftback is a tossup not that Milton Valenzuela is out due to a preseason ACL injury. Right now, Waylon Francis should be a great value as the starter but this could shift during the season.
Midfielders: With few preseason signings, expect the core midfield to continue to be Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, and Artur. There is still quality in this trio especially since Trapp has history playing for Porter in college. The big question is how much does Higuaín have in the tank. On the wings, Justin Meram and Pedro Santos should start the year, but Robinho is also in the picture and could be a steal at his price.
The addition of Caleb Porter is the most important change for Columbus and we should expect to see the team change more over time and maybe as early as this summer.
I expect Columbus to be a good source of players and points for fantasy managers. They have had little change from 2018 and Porter is an experience coach who should capitalize on the strengths of his players. The Crew also has a few value prices players with a great shot of seeing significant playtime and the skills of Steffen give them a good chance at early clean sheets especially since the east has lost a bit of its bite this year.