Crew View: Trade winds are blowing

Chris DeVille
Caleb Porter and Tim Bezbatchenko

Coach Caleb Porter and president Tim Bezbatchenko inherited a pretty good team when they took over Columbus Crew SC in January. The Crew's previous sporting director and head coach, Gregg Berhalter, assembled a squad that consistently posted winning records and contended in the postseason.

But it was Berhalter's team, one suited to his cerebral philosophy and tactics. Now that he's leading the U.S. men's national team, his replacements have struggled to get the same results from a nearly identical roster. After ascending to first place early on, Columbus has lost seven of its last eight matches, including its first five-loss streak since 2000. At 5-8-1, the team would miss the playoffs if the season ended today.

Fortunately, it doesn't. Despite the Crew's stormy spring, the 2019 campaign isn't even half over. There's plenty of time to right the ship.

One way Columbus leadership is attempting to do that is by making their first major personnel moves since coming aboard. This month has been busy on that front, with a number of key players coming and going to create what Bezbatchenko calls a new puzzle built from similar pieces. “At the end of the day, we have to figure out how all these pieces are going to fit together,” he told reporters earlier this month.

First Columbus acquired Costa Rican central midfielder David Guzmán from Porter's former team, the Portland Timbers, in exchange for an international roster spot. Then they sent longtime club staple and Iraqi international Justin Meram to Atlanta United for $100,000 in general allocation money (GAM).

Next, the Crew picked up winger David Accam from Philadelphia for $400,000 in GAM plus another $100,000 in target allocation money (TAM, which is different from GAM for reasons too complex to explain here). Accam joins fellow Ghanaians Jonathan Mensah, Harrison Afful and Lalas Abubakar in Columbus — but not for long.

Days after acquiring Accam, Crew SC dealt his rights to Nashville's expansion team starting next year for a $450,000 GAM/TAM combo. Porter says this was the plan all along — essentially they're renting a proven scorer for the year. Meanwhile Abubakar is on loan to Colorado for the rest of 2019 for $125,000 in TAM.

The new pieces haven't changed the Crew's results so far, but all the shuffling of resources suggests the team has big moves planned when the Secondary Transfer Window opens July 7. Bezbatchenko admits he's pursuing potential big-splash signings and Columbus might “bring in one, two, three new players depending on what our budget can provide.”

According to Porter, at least one of them will likely be a replacement for Accam. Perhaps another will take over the gloves for departing goalkeeper Zack Steffen, although leadership insists backups Joe Bendik and Jon Kempin are in contention to start. Whoever Porter and Bezbatchenko have their eyes on, they're undeniably starting to put their own stamp on the Crew.