When the Crew bowed out of the 2011 playoffs with a knockout-round loss, club officials began the search for ways to improve the team's offense.
When the Crew bowed out of the 2011 playoffs with a knockout-round loss, club officials began the search for ways to improve the team’s offense.
One year later, it is a decidedly different picture that greets the Crew as it approaches the offseason. After the midseason arrivals of Jairo Arrieta and designated player Federico Higuain, the team’s winter focus has shifted to the other end of the field.
“We’re not blind to the fact that we leak goals and we gave up leads and all that, and were somewhere down below the middle of the pack in terms of goals conceded, so we’re going to look at that, for sure,” said Brian Bliss, the Crew’s technical director.
“Just like last year, we looked to bolster the offense because we were deficient there, we’re going to look to probably make some changes in the back to try and fix the deficiency, the chink in the armor, whatever you want to call it.”
After ranking near the bottom of the league in scoring after the first half of the season, the Crew finished with an average of 1.29 goals that ranked 11th among the 19 teams in Major League Soccer. The Crew’s goal differential was zero, and its goals-allowed average of 1.29 ranked ninth in MLS.
That defensive average tied the 2012 Crew for seventh-lowest in club history. At the midway point of the season, the Crew was averaging exactly one goal per game while allowing 1.12. In other words, the offense improved while the defense declined in the final 17 games as the Crew fell short of the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Although the Crew’s defense was actually healthier during the back half of the season, coach Robert Warzycha pointed to injuries to his three top central defenders — Chad Marshall, Julius James and Carlos Mendes — as one of several possible explanations for the team’s overall struggles.
“We couldn’t make the defense all year as solid as we wanted to,” he said. “We rotated guys through there not because we didn’t like how they played but because we didn’t have a choice. If we would have had a solid two guys over there like Chad and Mendes or Julius for an entire year, I think we would be much better and have much better results.”
Bliss said the Crew will look to all available means — free agency, the draft and the international market — to bring in more defensive talent.
The Crew will train for two more weeks before players leave for the offseason. This week, the coaching staff will conduct exit interviews with players to let them know where they stand heading into the break.
The front office is not releasing information on whose contracts are up for next season until all decisions have been made, but The Dispatch has learned that the contracts of Danny O’Rourke, Sebastian Miranda and Mendes are up, while the Crew holds options on William Hesmer, Dilly Duka, Tony Tchani and Nemanja Vukovic.
Bliss also confirmed that the Crew will look to sign more players to “home-grown” contracts. Players who train in a club’s academy system for at least a year are eligible to be signed by that club without being exposed to the draft, and college players Wil Trapp (Akron), Chad Barson (Akron), Matt Wiet (UCLA) and Justin Luthy (Boston College) are all candidates for contracts.
In all, Bliss said the roster turnover will be in line with customary MLS attrition — about one-third of the 2012 club, with most of the changes coming from the final 10 spots on the roster — and the Crew probably will not reap an influx of extra cash.
“Through general attrition, you’re going to open up some roster room and money,” Bliss said. “I don’t see us all of a sudden coming into a windfall of money that’s going to let us really dip into the foreign market. Never say never, but I don’t see it right now on the books.”