tBG) Columbus was within a goal of winning the MLS Cup last season. The club made quite a few moves during the offseason - can you tell us about the comings and goings and whether you think it'll be enough to put Columbus over the top.
MR) While there were several changes to the team, none of them were major. Crew SC returns all 11 starters from last year’s MLS Cup Final and in the first game, the team only used one new player in forwards Conor Casey off the bench.
As for the new additions, most of them are brought in to add depth while pushing the players in front of them and competing for playing time. The aforementioned Casey is a veteran of MLS, even if his best days are behind him. Ola Kamara – yes the Black & Gold have two Kamaras – will add another dynamic to the Columbus front as a guy that looks to get in behind the back line (similar to Jack McInerney last season).
Emil Larsen is someone that can play a variety of positions across the attacking front. Right now it appears Gregg Berhalter likes him as a backup to Federico Higuain, but he’s seen time out wide as well. Rookie Rodrigo Saravia will add depth in the center of the midfield, likely filling in for Wil Trapp at points this year.
Defensively, Amro Tarek will give Berhalter another option in the center of the defense. He may see his first action against the Union on Saturday, as Gaston Sauro is questionable with a right hand injury. Corey Ashe is another MLS veteran who can help the team with his experience. He also fits into Berhalter’s system as an attacking outside back who can play on either side of the field.
tBG) Kei Kamara and the Crew just finished renegotiating his contract. How crucial is he to the success of Columbus, and what was the contingency plan if he had held out or decided to pull a Camilo and just leave?
MR) Kamara is very important for this team’s success. He is now the team’s second current Designated Player, the first time the Black & Gold have had more than one at a time. He didn’t have the best opening game and it was noticeable as the Crew SC attack struggled to convert chances. Columbus is hoping to be less reliant on Kei in 2016, but so far he’s still very much the focal point of the offense.
If he isn’t performing or is hurt, there are question marks behind him. As Philly fans know, Casey is certainly getting up there in years and likely can’t be a full-time player in this league any more. Ola Kamara is unproven in this league. While he did well in Norway, he struggled to score goals in Austria and Germany.
tBG) Does anyone actually like those new jerseys?
MR) Haha, actually yes. Although there was a lot of negative feedback when they were first released, the "For Columbus" jerseys, as they club is calling them due to their styling after the Columbus flag, have sold well. The team debuted them last week in Portland and will likely wear them again this week.
While they are a little strange to see at first, especially when you’re used to watching a team that has worn black or gold for so long, the uniform does begin to grow on people. Well, some people.
Projected starting XI:
Steve Clark; Harrison Afful - Michael Parkhurst - Gaston Sauro - Waylon Francis; Ethan Finlay - Tony Tchani - Wil Trapp - Hector Jimenez; Federico Higuain; Kei Kamara