[MLS SPOTLIGHT] Few MLS teams waited as long as did the Crew to play its first preseason game, and not for a few more days will Columbus face league opposition.
A 2-1 loss to Swedish club Malmo FF opened the schedule last week, and on Saturday head coach Robert Warzycha split up his squad to inflict 6-0 and 4-0 defeats on the U.S. under-17s during a pair of 70-minute games in Bradenton, Fla. Eddie Gaven scored twice in the first match and Tommy Heinemann got two in Game 2 as the Crew tuned up to play Seattle on Wednesday before returning to Columbus.
Also scoring in the first game were foreign newcomers Milovan Mirosevic (Chile) and Olman Vargas (Costa Rica). They are not direct replacements for midfielder Robbie Rogers and forward Andres Mendoza, respectively. Both have moved on, along with Emmanuel Ekpo and Jeff Cunningham, and in limited preseason time they’ve displayed the abilities that brought them to MLS.
“It’s no secret we parted with Mendoza and the other guys for different reasons, Robbie Rogers and Ekpo, so even before the season ended we were looking for someone to replace them, somebody who was good enough to step on the field and be a starter for us,” said Warzycha, who is also hunting for a Designated Player. “That was a process and that’s why we brought Milosevic, that’s why we brought Vargas, and we still have money to get the DP.”
Milosevic, a Chilean of Croatian descent, came to MLS after scoring 46 goals for Universidad Catolica the past three seasons and has played 25 times for Chile. Along with Gaven, the 31-year-old will be asked to orchestrate the attack and feed balls to Vargas, who brings the size (6-foot-2, 174 pounds) and workrate Warzycha felt was missing last season.
“He has the qualities we were looking for,” said Warzycha of the 26-year-old who has bounced between numerous clubs in his native and played against the Crew in CONCACAF play 2 ½ years ago. “Obviously, the physicality: he’s 6-2 and works very hard off the ball. He’s a forward who can play between two defenders and be very, very successful in front of the goal.
“That’s what we were looking for, the player who would give you 100 percent on the field and you would see it. Maybe he will be an example for his teammates. I am sure no one is going to say to him, ‘You need to work harder.’ He has it in his blood.”
Mendoza led the team with 13 goals last year as the team’s second Designated Player (following Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who led Columbus to its first league title in 2008 and left the league after the 2010 season). But Mendoza proved to be the antithesis of “America’s Hardest Working Team,” and effectively burned his ties to the club by insisting on taking a penalty kick could have been Cunningham’s record-tying 133rd MLS goal. After scoring, he waved angrily as fans booed and his coaches stewed.
Said McCullers in late December, “It’s fair to say [Mendoza] wasn’t a fit in a couple of different ways for this club.”
His option was declined and he had been left unprotected for the Expansion Draft. He has since signed to play in Mexico with Atlante.