2019 Columbus Crew SC: What happens now in the Caleb Porter era?

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Editorial (February 22, 2019) — With the support of an entire city, the state of Ohio and even the Major League Soccer community as a whole, the Columbus Crew SC plowed through the 2018 season with determination.

The whole season, the Crew had something to prove. It was all about standing up to owner Anthony Precourt, who expressed his desire to have a team in Austin, Texas. Cries of “Save the Crew” rang out throughout MLS matches — even if they weren’t Crew matches. Last season, Gregg Berhalter brought in Gyasi Zardes, who helps lead the attack up front. Wil Trapp stepped into more of a leadership role. Zack Steffen became a household name.

2019 Columbus Crew SC: What happens now in the Caleb Porter era? 

Last season, Columbus finished with a 14-11-9 record, placing fifth in the Eastern Conference. However, in the playoffs, crashed out of the semifinals, falling to the New York Red Bulls.

Either way, the task was officially complete on Dec. 28. After two months of expressing a desire to own the Columbus Crew, the Haslam family — owners of the Cleveland Browns of the NFL — put pen to paper, acquiring the team.

The Crew are staying in Columbus and plans for a new stadium are underway.

However, despite riding a high from the Haslam family’s purchase, the Crew lost out on their coach. Berhalter agreed to become the next manager of the U.S. Men’s National Team, ending a year-long search. Taking his place is Caleb Porter, former Portland Timbers FC head coach.

With a busy 2018, what’s going to happen in 2019? “Save the Crew” has now turned into “Saved the Crew.” What can Columbus Crew players do to keep their new owners believing they made the right choice?

Here are three major questions for the Crew for 2019.

Will Caleb Porter find immediate success?

After a mutual agreement to separate after five seasons, Caleb Porter hasn’t coached since leaving the Portland Timbers. Now, he’s back into a head coaching role after spending a year away from the game.

Was he anticipating the Berhalter move? There’s a chance, especially since Berhalter was on U.S. Soccer’s radar for a long time. Either way, this is now Porter’s team and he needs to find a way to pick up where Berhalter left off. Columbus is a solid team and making the playoffs isn’t a foreign concept.

Now, it’s up to Porter to find the right group of players to bring together. He is inheriting plenty of talent, including Zardes, Trapp, Steffen, Lalas Abubakar and Federico Higuaín. Porter has also put his foot on the gas this offseason, bringing back Waylon Francis and helping Milton Valenzuela sign a permanent deal instead of extending a loan.

Porter has success behind his name, as he coached the MLS Championship Timbers team of 2015. In the final, the Timbers faced the Crew.

Now, Porter has the chance to bring his new side a championship.

Who will be Zack Steffen’s replacement?

There are currently three other goalkeepers not named “Zack Steffen” on the Columbus Crew roster. The others are Joe Bendik, Jon Kempin and Ben Lundgaard.

As of this past week, Lundgaard, who comes from Virginia Tech, is on trial with the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC of the USL Championship. Meanwhile, Kempin has plentiful amounts of USL experience, spending time with clubs like Oklahoma City Energy, Swope Park Rangers and the LA Galaxy II.

In MLS action, Kempin made seven appearances for Sporting Kansas City.

That leaves Bendik.

Bendik joined Toronto FC back in 2013 and remained with the club until 2015. He made 73 appearance for the Reds before joining expansion club Orlando City SC in 2016. Bendik made 92 appearances for the Lions up until his departure from the club in 2018. Throughout Bendik’s time in Orlando, he recorded only 13 shut outs.

Meanwhile, 2018 was his worst season, with only one shutout in 25 appearances.

Steffen is expected to leave the Crew in the summer, following his signing to Manchester City in the English Premier League. Porter is going to have a tough decision to make on Steffen’s successor. Bendik is 29-years-old and he’s not getting any younger. There’s no shortage of older goalkeepers in the league. Look at Tim Howard, Nick Rimando, Evan Bush and Jeff Attinella.

However, going from a young player like Steffen back to an older goalkeeper isn’t thinking ahead to the future. There’s no way that Bendik is the goalkeeper of the future for the Crew. That’s what Porter needs to find.

Kempin isn’t a bad option. His USL experience will certainly help his case. He might not have the numbers that Bendik has, but he has youth on his side. The 25-year-old made five appearances for the Crew last season.

It also didn’t hurt to learn from Steffen.

Will Patrick Mullins have a bigger role? 

Last season was exactly what Gyasi Zardes needed.

After a bit of a slump during his last two seasons in Los Angeles, Zardes was traded to the Columbus Crew SC. Under Berhalter, Zardes revived his club career, scoring 19 goals in 33 appearances. In all of his appearances, Zardes started matches. He might not have provided any assists, but that’s not his job.

Meanwhile, Zardes’ success meant the sweeping of Patrick Mullins to the side.

Mullins only made two starts in 10 appearances last season, his first for the Crew. He scored one goal and provided only one assist in 285 minutes of action. This year, Mullins could look to have a bigger role for the Crew. Porter has used a two-striker formation before and only uses the lone striker formation if necessary.

Zardes can still put up big numbers in a partnership with Mullins. Either way, this year, Mullins could have a bigger year if Porter decides to use the two-striker formation. The only other striker on the roster is J.J. Williams, a rookie from Kentucky University.

Last Word: Columbus makes the playoffs, but doesn’t go far

It’s going to be hard to replace a talent like Steffen.

Bendik, as mentioned, isn’t the answer in the short or long term. During the summer transfer period, Porter should spend some time talking with goalkeepers and seeing what his options are. Porter doesn’t have to stick with MLS and can go outside of the league. However, quality backups in the MLS include Bryan Meredith and Matt Turner.

Columbus isn’t going to give up their playoff spot so easily, though. There’s now another battle for Columbus this season, although the Crew has been saved. Players need to show the Haslam family what they’re investing in.

Meanwhile, the fight to be the best team from Ohio is officially on.


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