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6. MLS COUNTDOWN: Columbus has nowhere to go but up
March 27th, 2007 2:38PM

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By Ridge Mahoney

The worst team in the league last year has a lot of ground to make up if it is to reach the playoffs after missing them in 2005 as well as 2006.

In its first year with head coach Sigi Schmid, Columbus (8-15-9) had last place in the Eastern Conference all but locked up with two months in the season left to go and scored only 30 goals.

In the offseason, Schmid acquired Andy Herron, who led the Fire last year with nine goals, and Stefani Miglioranzi, who led St. John's to the 1996 NCAA Division I title before embarking on a career in England. Also added was midfielder Danny O'Rourke, a veteran of two MLS seasons with San Jose and Red Bull New York.

Rumors of attempts to bring an Argentine international to Columbus, with Boca Juniors' Guillermo Barros Schelotto among those mentioned, have been bubbling for weeks.

"We're a deeper team than we were last year," says Schmid, who won an MLS title with the Galaxy in 2002 before being fired two years later. "I'm happy with the competition for positions. We've improved ourselves in the middle of midfield and we have more depth up front."

To accommodate Herron, Joseph Ngwenya, Kei Kamara (three goals for the Crew last year as a rookie), and others, Schmid has used a 4-3-3 formation in preseason.

"We want to keep three midfielders inside and play with out-and-out wingers," says Schmid, who puts young (23) Brazilian Ricardo Virtuoso in the latter category. He showed some brilliant flashes in his 10 appearances last year. O'Rouke, Miglioranzi, and veteran Duncan Oughton are expected to battle for time in midfield.

Schmid has retained most of his defenders but in preseason cut loose keeper Jon Busch, a starter in 2003 and 2004 who played just 17 games the past two seasons because of knee injuries. Busch reacted by slamming Schmid in the press before he was picked up on waivers by Toronto FC.

"He works hard and he's a very good professional," says Schmid. "I have my reasons for making a change and making a move. It's not something I'm going to go into.

"I know the one comment I made was that we played differently when he was in goal. Somebody asked why didn't Sigi just tell him to roll the ball out more. I can't believe people think I haven't tried to tell him that. I've been telling him that for a while.

"One of the things we talked about among the coaching staff was how different it is when somebody else is in goal. It changed the way we played."

Back problems forced Jonny Walker to retire, so the goalkeeping job will be shared by Bill Gaudette (11 games last year) and Andy Gruenebaum (three games). "We're probably a little thin defensively but we think we have enough quality and experience to get by," says Schmid.

Knee injuries limited Oughton to just nine games last year after he missed the entire 2005 season. He had played 91 games from 2001 to 2004

"He's been at about 75 to 80 percent in preseason," says Schmid. "He adds so many qualities: his desire, his leadership, he bleeds the colors. All those things are important."

Important, too, is reaching the playoffs, and in a seven-team conference that has added a formidable entry in Toronto, Columbus needs to better the league-low eight games it won last season.

U.S. U-20s: Freddy Adu and Co.'s Wednesday game vs. Haiti live online at ussoccer.com

The U.S. U-20 national team's game on Wednesday against Haiti will be broadcast live on U.S. Soccer's Web site at 6:15 p.m. ET at http://www.ussoccer.com/sights/liveStream.jsp.html.

Coach Thomas Rongen's U-20 squad includes young pros Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, Chris Seitz and Danny Szetela.

On Monday, the U-20s beat SMU, 3-2, on two goals by Sampdoria (Italian Serie A) forward Gabriel Ferrari and one by Adu.

COLUMBUS PRESEASON ROSTER
Goalkeepers
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
1 Will Hesmer (Kansas City Wizards)
18 Bill Gaudette (Columbus Crew)
30 Andy Gruenebaum (Columbus Crew)
Defenders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

2 Frankie Hejduk (Columbus Crew)
4 Rusty Pierce (Columbus Crew)
6 Marcos Gonzalez (Columbus Crew)
14 Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew)
20 Tim Ward (Columbus Crew)
23 Ezra Hendrickson (Columbus Crew)
24 Jed Zayner (Columbus Crew)
Midfielders
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)
5 Danny O'Rourke (New York Red Bulls)
7 Jacob Thomas (Columbus Crew)
8 Duncan Oughton (Columbus Crew)
11 Ned Grabavoy (Columbus Crew)
12 Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew)
15 Stefani Miglioranzi (Los Angeles Galaxy)
16 Kei Kamara (Columbus Crew)
17 Danny Szetela (Columbus Crew)
21 Brandon Moss (Columbus Crew)
25 Ricardo Virtuoso (Columbus Crew)
Forwards
NO. PLAYER ('06 TEAM)

3 Brad Evans (UC Irvine)
9 Jason Garey (Columbus Crew)
10 Joseph Ngwenya (Columbus Crew)
13 Marc Burch (Columbus Crew)
22 Robbie Rogers (Heerenveen, Netherlands)
26 Andy Herron (Chicago Fire)
29 Aaron Chandler (Univ. of San Francisco)



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