As Columbus Crew coach Sigi Schmid heads into his first season with the team, his goal is clear – to win the Major League Soccer Cup.
“That is the goal, every season, to win the championship,” he said.
The overhauled Crew can make it to the playoffs, if all of Schmid’s acquisitions and those players he inherited can live up to expectations.
Schmid looks to impose his confident, some may say cocky, attitude on this year’s team, in hopes that it will have the players more serious and focused than last season.
“Establishing the swagger and mentality that winning teams have is a challenge,” he said.
After being rumored for most of the off-season, the Crew finally completed a deal with Red Bull New York on Monday. The trade sent forward Edson Buddle east for midfielder Eddie Gavin and the rights to former Crew defensman and Pickerington native Chris Leitch, who had been put on waivers by New York earlier this month.
Buddle began his MLS career with the Crew in 2001 and was one of the few veterans left from last season. Gavin has spent the last three seasons with New York, and at 19 adds even more youth to the team. Leitch has been with New York since the Crew traded him in 2003. He received New York’s Defender of the Year Award in 2005.
Both players should help the Crew in 2006, but Buddle’s offense will be missed. It will be up to veteran Kyle Martino and a host of youngsters to score goals. The team drafted four strikers, including Kei Kamara and Jason Garey, in the first round. Both should contribute, but Garey has been battling injuries during training camp.
Knox Cameron and John Wolyniec both return to compete for playing time on the front line.
Even before Monday’s trade, the team will need to rely on its defense, at least early on, to keep them competitive. Luckily for Schmid and company, that is a major strength for this squad.
Opening the season with a good mix of youth and veterans, the Crew is two deep at almost every defensive position.
The retirement of team captain Robin Fraser left a void on the roster. To fill the void, the team acquired Chilean international player Marcos Gonzalez. His international experience should serve the team well, as he will be paired with returnee Chad Marshall in the center.
The backline should also be solid, with Frankie Hejduk at right back and new acquisition Ritchie Kotschau at left. New arrivals Tim Ward and Joel Kitamirike add depth, along with second round pick Jed Zayner.
The biggest unknown is the midfield, where Jose Retiz and Brandon Moss have been looked at to replace Simon Elliott. Moss has a job for now, and Reitz can be used at several positions and is more valuable in that role.
The other key for the midfield is the play of Martino and Danny Szetela. Szetela needs to live up to his potential and Martino needs to be a leader and show the young guys how it’s done.
In addition, Jon Busch and Jonny Walker could each start for any team in goal and should be among the league’s elite. Having both gives the Crew more depth and flexibility in front of the net. Busch tore his right ACL last season, but appears to be healthy and has the starting job for now, while Walker is still fighting a back injury.
While there were some veteran additions in the off-season, this is a much younger team than in 2005. The younger players will need to step up and contribute early and often, but mixed with the veterans on the team, the Crew should be in the running for the playoffs.
The Crew opens the 2006 season this Saturday in Kansas City at 8:30 p.m.
2005: 11-16-5 (Last place in the MLS Eastern Conference)
Forwards:Jason GareyKei KamaraMidfielders: Eddie Gavin Sebastian RozentalDefensemen:Marcos Gonzalez Joel Kitamirike Rusty Pierce Tim Ward Jed Zaynerthe rights to Chris LeitchUtility: Ritchie Kotschau
Who’s gone Forwards: Edson Buddle Cornell GlenMidfielders: Simon Elliott Chris HendersonDefensemen: Robin FraserChris Wingert