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Columbus rebuilding attack around Schelotto
by Ridge Mahoney, January 31st, 2008 6:45AM

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[MLS TEAM PREVIEW] The great whoosh reverberating through the Midwest earlier this week may or may not been Crew coaches and executives exhaling at the arrival of Argentine playmaker Guillermo Barros Schelotto. In his series examining MLS clubs' preseason maneuvers and preparations, Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney reports on who Coach Sigi Schmid is eying to add to the Crew.

He'd been uncertain about returning to the Crew this season, according to sources, though Coach Sigi Schmid and general manager Mark McCullers had steadfastly maintained they never believed any different. Schelotto had few choices; either he played for the Crew, or he'd be suspended.

Schelotto has been offered a new contract. His base salary last year was $156,000, which the Crew sweetened significantly. With the additional allocation money Columbus received for missing the playoffs, plus its cut of the transfer fee received when Universidad Catolica bought defender Marcos Gonzales, it has cash to use, and Schelotto will get some of it.

Schmid would like Schelotto to play a free role, as he did last season, working as the second forward with Alejandro Moreno as the midfielders shift depending on where Schelotto chooses to operate:

"What worked well for us last year was with Guillermo having the freedom to play where he wants to play, [Eddie] Gaven is comfortable in all three spots, and [Robbie] Rogers is very comfortable on both sides, they were able to interchange a lot and find different spaces."

Schmid is still looking for help up front, however, and so Schelotto might also reprise the wide midfield position he played most of last season.

Negotiations between MLS and Polish striker Macej Zurawksi continue. Contrary to some reports, there's no urgency, per se, since the closing of the January transfer window in Europe doesn't prevent U.S. teams from signing players under contract to European teams.

Only dates that pertain to the country to which the player is being transferred matter, and the U.S. window doesn't close until early spring.

After Friday, Glasgow Celtic can't sell him in Europe, but it can sell him anywhere else as long as the registration periods in those particular countries remain open. Last summer, Toronto FC coach Mo Johnston inquired about his services and in November the Galaxy also listened when it heard he was available but eventually decided to pass.

Columbus doesn't seem willing to pay DP prices for Zurawski, and with some allocation money being paid to Schelotto, might not have the funds necessary to buy out Zurawski's contract and offer him an acceptable salary.

He's scored 22 goals for Glasgow Celtic since his arrival in 2005 but has yet to net in eight matches this season. Celtic had slapped a transfer price of $1 million on him and he's also attracted offers from Germany, but after tomorrow those doors will close, so it may behoove the Crew to sit tight.

Former Nigerian striker Jay-Jay Okocha, who discussed an MLS move last year, had been on the club's radar screen, yet Schmid drafted players to address needs up front and elsewhere.

Andy Herron and Jacob Thomas were waived, Kei Kamara was traded, midfielder Brandon Moss retired, and Chilean club
Universidad Catolica bought the rights to defender Marcos Gonzales. After taking massive (6-foot-5) defender Andy Iro with the sixth overall pick, Schmid nabbed forwards George Josten and Ricardo Pierre-Louis in the second round.

"We really felt we needed a couple of forwards who could fill a role," says Schmid, who as head coach of the Galaxy in 2002 drafted Brian Ching out of Gonzaga University, where Josten scored 34 goals in 70 games.

"I thought he was one of the best back-to-goal forwards in the combine. And if he does as well as the last guy from Gonzaga that I drafted, I'll be very happy."

None of the first five SuperDraft picks dipped into a deep pool of defenders, so Schmid had his preference. Iro, a native of Liverpool, started all 86 of his college games and led UC Santa Barbara to the 2006 NCAA Division I title.

"We really had Andy and Julius James at the top of our lists," said Schmid. "Andy has more size and is left-footed, which means he can play with Chad [Marshall] or Danny O'Rourke and be comfortable. The last thing was he's more outgoing on the field and talks and organizes a little bit more."

O'Rourke played some left back at the tail end of last season and lined up in central defense for the final game. In preseason, he'll be tried in the back, with former D.C. United midfielder Brian Carroll, Stefan Miglioranzi and Duncan Oughton as the options in central midfield.

Right back Frankie Hejduk stayed out of the U.S. camps to heal from offseason hand surgery and tend to the birth of a son in early January.

The Crew heads to Florida Saturday for two weeks of training. Schmid has invited four trialists - three Brazilians and a Nigerian - and has a couple of others on his radar screen.

"We'll take a look at them down there, see how the players we drafted are doing, and then we'll have some idea of where we stand," says Schmid.

MLS Preseason Previews
Jan. 28 -- Real Salt Lake
Jan. 29 -- D.C. United
Jan. 30 -- New England

 



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