We exchanged three questions with Patrick Murphy from Massive Report.
Sounder at Heart: A lot of MLS Pundits rate the Columbus Crew offseason highly. What’s been some of the big addition for the team? What’s the cause for all the optimism?
Massive Report: To answer your second question first, you have to go back to the second half of last season. While the Crew didn’t make the playoffs in 2019, largely due to a ridiculous amount of injuries and the squad not fitting with Caleb Porter more than anyone foresaw, the Black & Gold only lost two of their final 13 matches to end the season. This came after a summer of moves that helped the team better fit what Porter wants to do. That run of form, I think, showed a lot of national pundits that this team was better than its record and thus created the optimism you referenced.
Then this offseason came and Columbus made some key additions. The biggest of those was Designated Player Lucas Zelarayan. While not the same type of player as Federico Higuain, Zelarayan is stepping into that No. 10 role for the Crew. Coming from Tigres as the team’s record signing, Zelarayan showed in preseason what he could do, then looked the part in Week 1, controlling most of the attack and scoring the lone goal in the Black & Gold’s 1-0 win against New York City FC.
The team also added center back Vito Wormgoor (who is questionable for this game) to add a serious amount of experience and physicality to the backline. Left back Milton Valenzuela also returns after missing all of last season with an ACL tear and feels like a new addition. The team also added a number of depth pieces that will help in case injuries do strike yet again.
All in all, this is a more well-rounded and a better-fitting roster.
SAH: Sounders fans are very familiar with Caleb Porter given his days in Portland. How’s he getting on in Columbus? What should we expect from his side on Saturday night?
MR: Obviously Year 1 did not go well for Porter in Columbus. The Crew won just 10 games and finished outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Given what Gregg Berhalter accomplished during his time with the Black & Gold, there was a big shadow hanging over this team. That’s a big reason why Porter had to make changes and get more of “his guys” or his type of players on the roster. Around the fanbase, there were certainly questions being asked of Porter this offseason and he needs a big season this year.
I, for one, believe in what Porter is building in Columbus. As I mentioned above, I think you saw more of what the Crew wants to do at the end of last year and it was successful. The Black & Gold want possession, but possession with the purpose of scoring. This team is going to counter-press on certain triggers and try and win the ball high up the field, putting the team in good scoring positions. Defensively, I think this unit will be better in 2020 with Wormgoor and Valenzuela back.
SAH: The Crew have a new stadium on the horizon plus a recent #SaveTheCrew movement, resulting in new ownership. Can you fill us in on the details of the move coming up and what it means for the fan base?
MR: The new stadium is going to be a major improvement for everyone involved with the Crew. While MAPFRE Stadium has a special place in U.S. soccer’s history, it did not age well. Stadiums across MLS have evolved far past the erector set that currently is the Black & Gold’s home and the new ownership knew it had to catch up. Also, the new stadium will be in the heart of Columbus’ downtown, right next to where the Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) and the Columbus Clippers (minor league baseball) play. There are bars and restaurants already built up in the “Arena District,” which was never the case by MAPFRE Stadium’s fairgrounds.
Outside of the stadium, the new ownership group was a breath of fresh air for the organization. Say what you will about the Cleveland Browns, but having owners who are familiar with how a major sports organization should look makes a difference. That is the case with the Haslams. This club was in a bad place after Anthony Precourt decided he was moving out and stopped putting the necessary effort into running the team and they came in and looked to make immediate upgrades. It will be a slow build back up, and the stadium will be a crown jewel of this new ownership group.