Crew Cuts: 2010 Season Preview
The Columbus Crew begins Major League Soccer's 15th season Saturday when regional rival Toronto FC comes to Crew Stadium to renew a bitter but one-sided rivalry.
Besides launching both clubs' MLS campaign, Saturday's matinee doubles as the first leg in the race for the Trillium Cup, awarded annually to the winner of the season series between Toronto and Columbus. Because Toronto has never beaten the Crew, Columbus has retained the trophy since Toronto entered the league in 2007.
Reversing that trend ought to be a tough task for Toronto. The Crew, fresh off a hard-fought 5-4 aggregate loss to Toluca in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, has retained the core of the team that won the Supporters' Shield for the league's best record in 2008 and 2009 and hoisted the MLS Cup in 2008.
The Crew has a busy 2010 ahead of it. Besides more MLS trophies in its sights, the club will begin a new cycle of Champions League matches in August. Before then, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup presents potential for even more games, assuming Columbus doesn't bomb out of the domestic tournament early like last year. Furthermore, the MLS schedule will be more compressed due to a three-week break in June during the World Cup.
Like last year, Coach Robert Warzycha's primary responsibility will be keeping players rested and ready to perform by plumbing every bit of the roster's depth.
"I think we're going to be OK," Warzycha said. "The biggest obstacle for any team is going to be injuries."
Defenders Chad Marshall, Jed Zayner and Shaun Francis are sidelined for Saturday's match. Warzycha hopes Marshall and Zayner are ready to return two weeks from now. At press time, the team was awaiting the results of an MRI on Francis. The rookie had his left foot in a boot Tuesday after suffering a hard tackle by Dallas' Atiba Harris in an exhibition Saturday.
Major League Soccer and its players union agreed in principle to a new collective bargaining agreement Saturday after long, strenuous negotiations that had the players threatening to strike before tonight's season-opening match between Seattle and Philadelphia.
Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer and midfielder Brian Carroll flew to Washington last week to participate in the negotiations. In an interview Tuesday, they said they were glad to put the process behind them but were pleased with the new deal's increased freedom for players.
"It was never about the money," Hesmer said. "We wanted the rights. We wanted to stop the screw factor."
When asked if the players took a public-relations hit by threatening to strike, Carroll shrugged.
"If that's what needed to happen in order to get a better deal, so be it," Carroll said.
Some key details of the new agreement, according to a league press release and sources close to the negotiations:
• The salary cap rises from $2.3 million to $2.55 million, with five percent increases each year going forward. Teams' four lowest-paid players don't count against the cap.
• Players aged 24 or older with at least three years of experience get guaranteed contracts.
• A new off-season "Re-Entry Draft" will include players whose options were not exercised, those whose contracts were terminated and those whose contracts expired.
• Minimum salary for players on the 20-man senior roster and four-man developmental roster rises to $40,000. Teams can add up to two more "home grown" players from their academy system at any salary. If the league expands roster numbers in future seasons, additional "apprentice players" will make $32,500.
New to the Crew
Dilaver "Dilly" Duka
Acquired: Selected in the first round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft with the eighth overall pick
Previous team: Rutgers
Bona fides: Played and scored for the U.S. in last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup; named all-Big East in 2008
Warzycha's take: "In the beginning he got injured a little bit. He missed some practice, and right now he's catching up ... He can play on the right flank or left or in the middle. I think he's very versatile. He's good enough to find the game anywhere you put him on the field."
Acquired: Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft with the 63rd overall pick
Previous team: Lindsey Wilson College
Bona fides: Captained Lindsey Wilson to 2009 NAIA championship
Warzycha's take: "Good left foot. He's very fast. Good technically. Good on the ball ... He's a good passer, so that's why we drafted him."
Acquired: Free agent signing
Previous team: Deportivo Cali (Colombian first division)
Bona fides: Won five championships with clubs in Colombia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia and Brazil; scored 76 goals in the past seven professional seasons; scored four goals in 11 appearances with the Colombian national team
Warzycha's take: "I'm looking for a forward that's going to score double-digits."
Acquired: Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft with the 62nd overall pick
Previous team: Louisville
Bona fides: Named third-team all-Big East and team MVP for Louisville in 2007; as a teenager, led U-17 club team to national championship
Warzycha's take: "Yanez is going to be around for a long, long time. He's a good player. He works hard ... You like to have a player like this on your team because he's scrappy. He's always getting in your way. There's a lot of him on the field."
Columbus Crew vs. Toronto FC
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, March 27
Where: Crew Stadium, North Side