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PREVIEW: Berhalter brings his Euro view to Crew
by Ridge Mahoney, March 3rd, 2014 4:34PM

TAGS:  columbus crew, mls


[MLS 2014: Eastern Conference] When he bought the Crew and its stadium last July from Hunt Sports Group for $68 million, owner Anthony Precourt vowed to change the team’s image in all respects.

An extensive rebranding is pending. The Crew Stadium scoreboard, which caught fire before a game last year, has been upgraded. To arrest a slide on the competitive side, former U.S. international Gregg Berhalter, who spent most of his playing career in the Netherlands, England and Germany, has replaced former head coach Robert Warzycha.

2013 Columbus Crew
Record: 12-17-5
Finish: 8th in Eastern Conf.
Playoffs: did not qualify.

Warzycha, who inherited the 2008 MLS Cup championship team from predecessor Sigi Schmid, was dismissed in early September with the Crew in eighth place, where it eventually finished. Berhalter has revamped the defense by trading two long-time contributors and replacing them with players experienced in Europe. Centerback Chad Marshall is out; former Rev Michael Parkhurst returns to MLS after playing in Denmark and Germany. Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum, who played 21 of 34 games last year, has moved on; Steve Clark was acquired in a trade with Seattle after spending the last four years in Norway with Honefoss FC.

“New ownership, new coach, hopefully we can turn things around from last year,” says Parkhurst, who helped the Revs reach three straight MLS Cups (2005-07) and is on the bubble for the 2014 USA World Cup roster. “That’s one good thing about MLS; you’re able to rebuild quickly if you do it right. I think Gregg’s gonna put us on the right path, so time will tell.”

Eastern Conference Preview:

WHY BE OPTIMISTIC? Berhalter finished his MLS career as player-coach with the Galaxy, where he mentored Omar Gonzalez and his teammates on a daily basis before leaving to coach in Sweden with Hammarby IF, which dismissed him last summer after 18 months in charge. His familiarity with the league’s nuances and methods is an asset, and his reputation as focused and direct was borne out when he challenged Argentine playmaker Federico Higuain to increase his influence. Fans remember the team's best era occurred when another Argentine, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, tormented opponents and led the Crew to its only MLS Cup.

Concacaf has been a vital source of players to MLS teams, and Berhalter has signed up Costa Rican international defenders Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis. The Crew tied for 11th place by scoring 42 goals last year, so netting four goals apiece in last two games of preseason, during which it finished 4-0-1 and concluded by thumping defending champion Sporting Kansas City, 4-1, is a positive sign.

Parkhurst, 30, won Rookie of the Year, Defender of the Year,and Best XI honors in his four MLS seasons. The league is faster and tougher, but if he can match his previous level of play, the Crew won’t miss Marshall at all. In his first season with the Crew, Dominic Oduro led the team with 13 goals and signed a new contract. Hector Jimenez, a former Galaxy teammate of Berhalter who joined him in a January trade, played impressively in the defeat of SKC.

WHY BE PESSIMISTIC? Columbus finished ahead of only Toronto FC and D.C. United last year and both of those teams have undergone renovations that exceed those in Columbus. So has Chicago, which finished eight points ahead of Columbus. The Crew roster may not be deep enough to generate points while missing players to international duty in a World Cup year. Many keepers have struggled adjusting to MLS, so Matt Lampson (13 games last year) has to be ready if Clark stumbles.

PROJECTED FINISH: 7th-9th place. Berhalter has a clear vision of how he wants the team to play, and if Jairo Arrieta, Higuain, Oduro, Clark and Parkhurst all step up the Crew will be in the hunt, yet consistent results will be hard to come by this first season.

1-Steve Clark (27)/USA (Honefoss)

3-Josh Williams
(25)/USA (5th season)
19-Giancarlo Gonzalez (26)/Costa Rica (Valerenga)
4-Michael Parkhurst (30)/USA (Augsburg)
5-Waylon Francis (23)/Costa Rica (Herediano)

12-Hector Jimenez (25)/USA (LA Galaxy)
20-Wil Trapp (21)/USA (2nd season)
6-Tony Tchani (24)/USA (4th season)
7-Bernardo Anor (25)/Venezuela (4th season)

10-Federico Higuain
(29)/Argentina (3rd season)
25-Jairo Arrieta (30)/Costa Rica (3rd season)

First off the bench:
21-Chad Barson (23)/USA (2nd season)
8-Dominic Oduro (28)/Ghana (2nd season)
9-Justin Meram (25)/USA (3rd season)
24-Agustin Viana 30/USA (2nd season)
Columbus Crew: complete roster.

returning players in bold.

March 8: at D.C. United, 7 pm ET
March 22:
Philadelphia, 6 pm ET
March 29:
at Seattle, 10 pm ET
Columbus Crew: complete schedule.

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