2012 Columbus Crew Preview: New Additions Raise Expectations

BRIDGEVIEW, IL -OCTOBER 22: Emilio Renteria #20 of the Columbus Crew celebrates his goal against the Chicago Fire during an MLS match on October 22, 2011 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated the Crew 3-2. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Coming off a perfectly mediocre year, the Crew may actually be poised for a big season writes Massive Reports Aaron Kazelman.

Columbus Crew

2011: 13-13-8 (47 points); 4th in the Eastern Conference

Key Additions: Milovan Mirošević, Olman Vargas, Carlos Mendes, Ben Speas, Ethan Finlay

Key Losses: Robbie Rogers, Andrés Mendoza, Jeff Cunningham, Josh Gardner, Emmanuel Ekpo

Projected Starting XI: (G) William Hesmer; (D) Sebastián Miranda, Julius James, Chad Marshall, Carlos Mendes (M) Eddie Gaven, Tony Tchani, Dilly Duka, Milovan Mirošević (F) Emilio Renteria, Olman Vargas

Bold Prediction: Columbus will win the East with a reinvigorated offense and consistent defense.

Biggest Fear: Emilio Renteria will be injured for a lengthy amount of the season. He's the only forward currently on the roster with a proven scoring record in MLS.

Last season, the Columbus Crew were average. They managed to score 43 times while the defense let in 44 goals. With the offseason loss of leading scorer Andres Mendoza, most MLS fans not deeply connected with Columbus wouldn't expect much in 2012.

Having said that, Columbus was average in 2007, too. One year later, a couple of key pieces fell into place. The team jelled together, and the Crew ended with the Supporters' Shield and an MLS Cup, all within a one-year span. Well, 2012 could be a repeat of 2008.

Chilean attacking midfielder Milovan Mirošević was brought in from Universidad Católica after after leading the Chilean Primera División in goals in 2010 with 19. Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas signed on as the Crew's new wrecking ball in front of goal. Midfielder Dilly Duka spent the offseason with the Generation Adidas and U.S. U-23 national team, scoring countless goals while traveling the Netherlands. Emilio Renteria, the Crew's highest returning scorer, trained with the Venezuela national team and made an appearance in a friendly match against the U.S. Columbus also managed to draft Hermann trophy finalist Ethan Finlay from Creighton University and sign midfielder Ben Speas, the 2011 College Cup MVP from North Carolina University, to a Homegrown contract.

The defense will remain the same, minus left-back Josh Gardner who was selected by the Montreal Impact in the Expansion Draft. However, speedy Shaun Francis could blossom this year with the position all to himself. Able to get down the wing in flash, Francis will be a solid MLS defender once his defensive skills are more polished. To strengthen their depth, Columbus picked up former New York Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes in the Re-Entry Draft. Mendes can fill in anywhere across the back line. Two time MLS Defender of the Year and captain Chad Marshall will still anchor the defense, while goalie William Hesmer is now entering his prime.

Last year's rookie class, including midfielders/defenders Eric Gehrig and Rich Balchan, left-winger Bernardo Añor, and forward Justin Meram all have one grueling professional season under their belts. All could prove to be valuable substitutes this year and, perhaps, maybe even push for a starting spot.

The Crew have gone out and gotten the missing pieces they need. Every position has two or three players vying for a spot in the starting XI. The offense has new catalysts, and the consistent Eddie Gaven is still here. The defense has gained depth, while also keeping the core together for yet another season. Columbus has had a great offseason off the field as well, achieving a new jersey sponsor and TV contract, and the Nordecke have held numerous events for money to help fund tifo.

2012 could be the most massive season yet.

- Aaron Kazelman, Massive Report

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