It is tempting to prematurely mourn the demise of Columbus Crew SC.
Although nothing is but set in stone, proprietor Anthony Precourt has been open — some may say obstinate — about his need to maneuver the membership to Austin, Texas, beginning with the 2019 season. Given the chance to push again in opposition to the potential franchise relocation at his State of the League handle again in December, commissioner Don Garber as a substitute stated MLS was “supportive” of Precourt’s exploratory efforts inside the Texas state capital.
Attackers Ola Kamara and Justin Meram, Columbus’ prime two aim scorers final 12 months, each requested trades this winter, with every reportedly citing the membership’s unsure future as a part of the rationale why. Both had been obliged: Meram was dealt to Orlando City and Kamara to the LA Galaxy in alternate for ahead Gyasi Zardes and focused allocation cash.
With all that murkiness hovering overhead, this season may very well be a attempting one — harking back to when the NBA’s SuperSonics’ ultimate marketing campaign in Seattle was sunk by their impending transfer to Oklahoma City and the ensuing fan apathy was pointed to as justification for the relocation itself.
And but it would not should be all doom and gloom in central Ohio when Columbus kicks off its season in opposition to defending champion Toronto FC on March three at BMO Field. The Crew will miss the affect of Kamara and Meram, to make certain, but it retains the majority of the roster that reached the MLS Eastern Conference finals a season in the past.
Columbus put an actual scare into Toronto as soon as there, too, and edging towards a Cup ultimate on dwelling turf earlier than TFC’s Jozy Altidore struck on the counterattack within the second half of leg two.
Columbus additionally nonetheless has Gregg Berhalter, one of many very brightest minds in MLS. His repute was solely burnished by his group’s deep playoff run amid swirling rumors of Precourt’s amorous Austin advances, and the coach’s proactive, attack-minded system has by no means been overly depending on solely a handful of difference-makers.
“I believe we have talked sufficient in regards to the two departures,” Berhalter stated of Kamara and Meram in a latest telephone interview with ESPN FC. “We had been targeted on doing two offers that made the group higher, and I believe we did that.”
He additionally dismissed the notion that Columbus may battle to draw recent expertise provided that no person is aware of for certain the place the franchise will likely be in a 12 months’s time.
“We have not confronted these challenges,” stated Berhalter, who additionally serves as sporting director. “Almost each particular person I’ve spoke to about coming to the membership wished to affix us for the appropriate causes.”
Berhalter has a vested curiosity in framing it that method, after all, but his general sentiment rings true. In an trade wherein gamers are conscious they are often traded or launched at any time, they’re used to coping with a component of uncertainty. Some may blanch on the concept of getting to uproot their lives on the finish of this season, but various of them have already achieved so a minimum of a time or two of their careers.
“You have some gamers who’re signing due to town, or due to the coach, or as a result of they’re filling a job,” stated Richard Motzkin of the Wasserman Group, whose company represents Zardes and Crew captain Wil Trapp, amongst others. “For some folks, for a small proportion of gamers, the uncertainly would weigh in. But finally if all the opposite bins are checked, and it is a good skilled alternative, finally that is going to outweigh the opposite issues.”
And so Berhalter and firm have gone in regards to the enterprise of quietly transferring on from Kamara and Meram, the rebuild one thing of a reprieve from all of the open questions ready outdoors the closed doorways of membership headquarters.
“This is one thing that we actually cannot management,” Berhalter stated. “Our aim is to present the followers the very best expertise on the sphere as attainable. … Almost for a person, the fellows are motivated. They had been motivated to get again at it. The mindset from the gamers has been terrific.”
The Crew has already proved as soon as that it might flip destructive vitality right into a optimistic motivational power. Whether it could possibly achieve this once more — and whether or not it could possibly preserve that degree of defiance over the course of the eight-month common season — might go a great distance towards shaping the highest half of the East.
Matt Pentz is a Seattle-based soccer reporter masking primarily the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps. Follow him on Twitter @mattpentz.