Columbus Crew Rebrand, Kei Kamara, and Playoff Permutations

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It’s been a week full of twists and turns, both on and off the field, for the Columbus Crew. There’s obviously a great deal of excitement for the future that has been generated by the unveiling of the franchise’s new visual identity Wednesday which included a brand, spanking new badge that draws inspiration from a wide variety of areas.

Columbus Crew Rebrand

The crest pays tribute to the German roots that have been a major part of this central Ohio community for over a century now with its circular design that is quite common amongst teams in the Bundesliga, including Borussia Dortmund which has similar colors as the Crew. The city itself was settled by a large number of immigrants from Germany as far back as the early 1800s. The German Village neighborhood in Columbus is renowned throughout the country and is part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Other features of the new logo include an inner ring that mirrors the same pattern found on the Ohio state flag, the number 96 indicating the year of the club’s founding as one of the league’s charter members, and a checkerboard pattern that pays tribute to the fans, especially those in the Nordecke supporters section. Overall, it’s an aesthetically pleasing design and incorporates symbolism associated with the franchise much like the new MLS logo attempts to do the same with the league as a whole.

Kei Kamara

Adding to the anticipation for 2015, the Crew announced the signing of former Middlesbrough forward Kei Kamara earlier in the week via the team’s allocation ranking. Speculation ensued on an almost daily basis as to how Columbus would use their top spot in the ranking. Kamara started to appear on the team’s radar after the potential deal to bring in US men’s national team midfielder Mix Diskerud fell through.

Playoff Permutations

Despite the great deal of buzz surrounding these two developments, there still remains the task at hand associated with qualifying for the playoffs in 2014. That achievement became much less certain after last Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the New England Revolution. Even more disconcerting is the fact that two key players, leftback Waylon Francis and leading goalscorer Federico Higuain, will miss this coming Saturday’s game at Philadelphia due to suspension.

The two incidents that led to their respective future absences for the team were avoidable. Francis received a second yellow card against New England after impeding a throw-in from Revs forward Charlie Davies who then proceeded to fall to the ground as if he had suffered a season-ending injury. Say what you want about the flop but you simply can’t give the referee an excuse to slide the yellow card out of his pocket when you’re already in the book.

Higuain was cautioned in the 93rd minute after a reckless challenge on Daigo Kobayashi that appeared to be frustration-based given the scoreline and the inevitability of an impending Columbus loss. Once again, you’re looking at a yellow card that didn’t need to happen. As a result, he’ll be unavailable when the Crew travel to PPL Park over the weekend due to accumulation.

Both players are instrumental from an attacking standpoint. In Higuain’s case, that much is obvious considering he’s the Crew’s leading goalscorer (11) and is tied for the team lead in assists with six. Francis is the player he’s tied with, and the Costa Rican fullback currently leads all defenders in the league with that assist total. He’s proven himself adept at making forays down the left flank into the opponent’s attacking third, providing beautiful square balls into the box.

It will be interesting to see who takes Francis’ place on the back line in Philly on Saturday. If there’s any unit that’s a plus for the Crew from a depth standpoint, it’s defense. Both Bernardo Anor and Chad Barson filled in for Francis while he was on World Cup duty for Costa Rica. There also is the possibility that Emanuel Pogatetz could make his debut after being signed on September 9th.

In Higuain’s case, you could see Homegrown player Ben Speas take his place in the central attacking midfield. He’s made six starts so far this season, three each at left wing as well as down the middle. He scored as a substitute in the Crew’s 4-1 win over Los Angeles, and also has two assists on the year.

Head coach and sporting director Gregg Berhalter also has the option to take a bit of a gamble and insert Romain Gall into the spot normally occupied by Higuain. The 19-year-old regular for the United States U-20s joined the Crew via the league’s weighted lottery on August 7th and has made two appearances as a substitute so far. I could envision a similar off-the-bench role for him on Saturday replacing Speas in the second half.

What helps Columbus when we look at the standings is the fact that they’re finally even with Toronto FC in games played and enjoying a three-point advantage with three matches remaining. Toronto’s Wednesday night 1-0 loss to Houston was beneficial in that regard, but all of a sudden the Dynamo are lurking. Both them and the Union are tied on 39 points and, believe it or not, Houston has the tiebreaker at this point.

The worst-case scenario would be the Crew dropping a decision in Philadelphia coupled with a Houston upset of conference frontrunner DC United when they face each other on Sunday afternoon down in Texas. If that happens, Columbus would be a mere point ahead of the Union and Dynamo with another challenging road test looming in Harrison next week against the New York Red Bulls. Houston should be brimming with confidence after their mid-week triumph, and should not be taken lightly by DC.

As a franchise on the cusp of retooling their visual profile come next season, things are looking bright and the fan base is energized. That said, there’s much to be done between now and then: namely, finishing this year with a bang and getting into the postseason. With all ten teams in the Eastern Conference having completed 31 games, Columbus controls their own postseason destiny occupying the fifth spot right now.

I know it’s a goofy cliché but it’s viscerally simple and rings true for the Crew going forward: win and you’re in.

 

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