The 2014 Columbus Crew season was a significant break from the past, particularly off the field. New owner Anthony Precourt, having purchased the team from Hunt Sports Group midway through 2013, made his presence felt often through the year both in the news and social media. The team enjoyed its best performance in several years, including an appearance in the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Gregg Berhalter was handed the helm, serving both as head coach and sporting director. He was joined by a trio of assistant coaches that included fellow World Cup veteran Josh Wolff, and longtime MLS goalkeeper Pat Onstad.
Columbus started the season with three consecutive victories, including a road win over the Seattle Sounders. This torrid beginning then cooled dramatically as Columbus won only one of their next 16 games. Dominic Oduro, who led the team in scoring in 2013 with 13 goals, failed to find the net once and was traded to Toronto after 11 games. Defensively a pair of new Costa Rican signings, Giancarlo Gonzalez and Waylon Francis, missed significant time during the summer due to Costa Rica’s run to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. The defensive changes could have been more drastic, however, as Michael Parkhurst was a late exclusion from the American squad that eventually made the Round of 16.
A handful of players emerged in the latter half of the season, however, leading the team to a dramatic turnaround and ultimately a postseason berth. Federico Higuain was joined atop the scoring charts by third-year winger Ethan Finlay, with both ending the year with 11 goals and seven assists. Other significant players included the pairing of Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp at holding midfield, and goalkeeper Steve Clark – each of whom earned national plaudits. Trapp is rumored to have played his way into the US National Team player pool, while left winger Justin Meram was called up to the Iraq National Team after the season finished.
Ultimately, however, the team’s quest for its first hardware since 2009 came up empty. It was eliminated from the US Open Cup after two games, falling once again to the Chicago Fire. The midseason doldrums ruled the club out of contention for Supporters Shield (won dramatically on the last day of the season by Seattle). Finally, the team was comprehensively outplayed in the playoffs by the New England Revolution, defeated 7-3 on aggregate over a two game series. The team finished their last playoff game with only nine players on the field after ejections to Finlay and Meram.
Off the field, new owner Anthony Precourt made sweeping changes. Long-serving General Manager Mark McCullers left the organization in the spring, replaced by Andy Loughnane after a nationwide search. While there was widespread criticism of the team’s new television contract with Time Warner Sportschannel Ohio, the team continued its success at the turnstile. Three years after team attendance plummeted to less than 12,000, the team enjoyed five sellout crowds during 2014 and finished the year with the highest total attendance in the history of Crew Stadium.
The most significant change, however, was the revelation of a new team identity. The team’s logo, unchanged since 1996, was jettisoned in favor of a new design that tried to better reflect the team’s relationship to central Ohio, and the region’s character and heritage. The name of the team was also tweaked slightly, becoming Columbus Crew SC. These changes were nearly unanimously applauded, in sharp contrast to the reaction to a new MLS logo that was also unveiled during the course of the season.
After the season finished, a series of personnel moves signaled yet more upheaval in 2015. Former draft pick Kei Kamara, who played nearly 40 games for Columbus in 2006 and 2007, returned after stops in San Jose, Houston, Kansas City and Middlesborough. Two midfielders also joined the team from Scandanavian clubs: Icelander Kristinn Steindorsson from Halmstads, and Swede Mohammed Saeid from Orebro.
A handful of players have also departed the team since the end of season. Columbus lost both defender Eric Gehrig and forward Jairo Arrieta in the expansion draft to Orlando City, while defender Josh Williams was traded to New York City FC in the days before the draft. Midfielder Bernardo Anor was also traded away, sent to Kansas City days before the draft.
These changes leave the team roster with areas of strength, while others appear to need more attention. While the midfield offers strength in depth with an international pedigree, and Steve Clark is among the better goalkeepers in the league, both the forward and defensive corps are thin in number.
A shorter version of this article was originally published by the author at Massive Report Data