Columbus is playing up in Toronto tonight at 7:30 pm. It's an odd time to play for creatures of Crew habit, but the MLS All-Star game on Thursday pushes most of the league games a day.
Win or lose, tonight is the start of an interesting week. Looming over the match is the closing of the transfer window on Wednesday. After last week's collapse, Gregg Berhalter threatened the players on his team that they could be on the move if things didn't improve.
It's entirely possible that we could see a player or two move this week. Maybe more if they put in a poor showing tonight. I'll make a list of just who that might be in just a second. Let's walk it back first.
MIDSEASON WINDOW, MUSICAL CHAIRS
The midseason window in MLS is a tricky one. It's really the one that doesn't line up with the rest of the comparable soccer universe and transactions sometimes occur after it's closed. On top of that, it ends too early and the better teams are just now moving into the next highest gear after a convoluted, brain-melting, summer of international tournaments / friendlies / MLS action.
What this means is that, while Berhalter's threat to players is probably real, it makes it hard to really do much about it. The majority of what happens this time of year is just what we saw with the recent signing of Adam Jahn from San Jose is pretty much what happens for a team like Columbus.
This late in the window is when you see the experienced MLS guys go on the move. Bad teams (like Houston last night, moving Giles Barnes) looking to get some extra MLS funny money and the receiving team getting a ready made performer that knows the MLS ropes (travel, intensity, culture, etc). The trick (or problem) is that good MLS teams don't generally need players. It's the bad teams.
So you see a lot of the Fabian Espindola type moves; Known MLS guy on bad team, maybe he as a tude, goes to a slightly less bad team with holes and injury problems.
The final key here to unlocking the tyrannical side of Berhalter is just play having enough players. His roster is limited right now. He doesn't even really have the option to bench under performing players, let alone cut guys for nothing in return. Options are limited. Frugality is needed.
With all that, Columbus does have desirable players that check off boxes that other teams might have. Here is a list of guys that could move.
1. Waylon Francis (51% chance of moving)
2. Hector Jimenez (49%)
3. Justin Meram (25%)
4. Ethan Finlay (20%)
Well, hmm. When I started this post I thought there might be more oomph to it. It's hard seeing Finlay as a plug and play player because he's not particularly a winger nor a mid-fielder. He's a guy that works well in a very specific role in the Crew SC system. He's on the list, though. He did break through to the USMNT and has an all-star appearance.
Ultimately, basically, I can see Francis on the move. Maybe Jimenez. Plug and play. The other two on the list have some MLS value. The rest of the roster is too blah, too new to the league and/or too expensive for other teams to bother.
NO SACRED COWS HERE
Now comes the fun part. Let's be bold. The guys I think should be on the move, be it Columbus trying to rebuild or the players themselves looking to further their careers (both MLS and beyond). Again, MLS mid-season window is mostly about spare parts moving around. But this is a team in need of meaningful moves to freshen up the roster. Can't have sacred cows here. The point of shaking up a team (in this case, threaten jobs) is to actually shake, right?
1. Wil Trapp. The most valuable MLS asset the team has and certainly up there internationally as well. He could fetch a small fortune for the team (well, the max that MLS allows). Maybe $500k to $1 million outside MLS. In MLS more than half could use him. Much TAM would be had and you might get more than one player back in return. Trapp is the face of Columbus, yes, but it's a dead end if he has any ambition. He can always come back later on.
2. Tony Tchani. He's bounced around the league already, so he knows the deal. He's a complex character but is one of the good guys. He gives the team toughness when he's out there. I think Berhalter has him locked in a role that he's grown out of. He's proven he can play with our without the team's better players. Lastly, and most importantly, I want him to get a fresh start.
3. Steve Clark. There is a crazy side to Clark that I like. He's one of those guys that plays like he's knocked back one or four beers? or... something before the game starts. Good 'keeper, no doubt, but he's becoming a cross between Tim Howard and Dan Kennedy right before our eyes. I think there would be interest outside MLS for him because of his experience. He's the kind of US player I WANT to see playing outside US borders. He would get a shot of the USMNT if he moved back abroad, I think. He knows it. Crew could get something and have a little depth now at GK.
4. Michael Parkhurst. For me, there is a sense that he's been used up by Columbus. The tank is empty. He came back into the league with the wave of US guys a few years ago with the expectation of making the USMNT for the World Cup (ie. via a connected Berhalter) and being a cornerstone of Crew SC (ie. Captain). The results? Not making the World Cup was a disappointment for him (for many, really), he climbed the MLS Cup mountain (again). Now Columbus has another young CB on the roster and he is somewhat unsure of his future. Parkhurst is a pro. It's a phrase thrown around a lot, but it fits him well. His role on this team right now is to try and limit the damage the rest of the year and, if he stays, muster up some energy in the offseason. At this point, it's hard to see that benefitting either the player or the team.
These players would make a good core to just about any MLS team, no question. But the situation is this; Crew SC is near bottom. It's not working. It hasn't been working and doesn't look to get working in the near future.