'13 Season Preview: Crew eyes swift return to playoffs

12:10 PM, Feb 21, 2013   |    comments
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Columbus, OH (Sports Network) - After missing out on a trip to the postseason for the first time in five years, the Columbus Crew has put itself in position for a quick return to the playoffs after a successful offseason.

The club not only acquired Glauber, Dominic Oduro and Matias Sanchez, who figure to have a positive impact, but head coach Robert Warzycha's side should also benefit from having playmaker Federico Higuain play a full campaign for the Black and Gold.

Columbus missed out on the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference by one point last term. But according to defender Danny O'Rourke, it is something that has been put in the past, while serving as motivation ahead of the new campaign.

"Everyone kind of left last year with a bad taste in their mouths," O'Rourke said. "Everyone wanted to come back not just to get in shape for preseason, but to come back ready to work from day one.

"You take a couple of days and look back at games where you should've played better, games where you shouldn't have given up a goal or where you didn't score a goal and other opportunities squandered. I learned from a good coach one time that the best thing about a soccer player is a short memory. Whether it's a bad pass or bad first touch, or whether it's not making the playoffs, you've got to learn how to put it behind you."

Fellow defender Chad Marshall would like to erase the memory of last season as well as he underwent ankle surgery following the regular season and never quite seemed to be a full strength.

Marshall was limited to 24 games last season, but his return to top form will be a big boost, as will the continued success of defenders Sebastian Miranda and Josh Williams.

Add to that mix Brazilian defender Glauber, who at 29 brings a wealth of experience from his time in Europe, and Warzycha's defense figures to be a strength.

The biggest reason for optimism in Columbus is the fact that the Crew will be able to get a full season out of Higuain, who was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year last season despite playing just 13 games.

Higuain's impact was undeniable, however, as he totaled five goals and seven assists in those 13 matches, giving the Crew attack some much-needed punch.

Joining Higuain in the midfield will be fellow Argentine Sanchez, who signed with the Crew in the offseason after spending the past five seasons in his native country with Estudiantes.

Columbus had trouble finding the net at times last season with 44 goals in 34 games. But along with Higuain and joint top scorers Jairo Arrieta and Eddie Gaven, who netted nine goals apiece, the Crew was able to land an impact forward in Oduro.

The Ghanaian has spent the past two years with the Chicago Fire, where he tallied 18 goals.

Oduro was acquired in a trade with Chicago for midfielder Dilly Duka, and Warzycha feels as though he will bring an extra dimension to the Columbus attack.

"I think he adds something to our style of play," Warzycha said. "He's a player that scored 12 goals two years ago and scored six last season. He has something not too many players have in this league, he has speed. He's very fast, and obviously he's going to give us some other options to play a little differently."

2012 IN REVIEW: Columbus narrowly missed the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, finishing one point back of the Houston Dynamo for the final postseason berth in the Eastern Conference. Higuain's arrival in midseason came a little too late, and Marshall battled through an injury-plagued campaign that clearly had a negative impact. Even still, the Crew nearly overcame those issues to qualify for the playoffs, with seven of the club's 12 defeats coming by one goal.

ACQUISITIONS: Tyson Wahl (D), Agustin Viana (D/M), Glauber (D), Dominic Oduro (F), Matias Sanchez (M).

LOSSES: Cole Grossman (M), Nemanja Vukovic (D), Rich Balchan (D), Julius James (D), Sebastian Miranda (D), Chris Birchall (M), (F) Tommy Heinemann, William Hesmer (GK), Carlos Mendes (D), Dilly Duka (M).

OUTLOOK: Columbus should be an improved side in 2013 and is a good bet to return to the postseason after a one-year hiatus. Marshall's return to health along with the arrival of Glauber will strengthen the back line, while a full season with Higuain and the arrival of Oduro should improve what was an inconsistent attack last season. After failing to make the playoffs from 2005-07, the Crew has the pieces in place to prove that last term was just a stumble in what should be a run of five playoff appearances in the span of six years.

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