As the 2020 season is ushered in, the Columbus Crew are heading in an exciting direction. Here are three key players to watch ahead of the new campaign.
The Columbus Crew are set to truly begin their post-Anthony Precourt era this season. They are gunning for a playoff place after substantial investment in the squad and club infrastructure and are steaming ahead under Caleb Porter.
In the old days, the Crew would rely on low-paid draft picks and minimum salary fill-ins to provide depth. This season, backing up Gyasi Zardes will be Fanendo Adi, who has 50 MLS goals to his name (albeit coming off a failed season with FC Cincinnati), while there is depth and variety through smart investment throughout the squad.
And so, with the new season around the corner, here are three players who will be the most important to 2020 fortunes of the Columbus Crew.
3. Harrison Afful
Harrison Afful might not be the most obvious player to highlight for the Columbus Crew. Gyasi Zardes and how many goals he might score, a crowded goalkeeper room, and the winger rotation are all interesting storylines to track. But when the Columbus have been at their best, Afful has certainly been the catalyst.
It is no surprise that when Afful broke his jaw a year ago, Columbus suffered through a historic barren stretch before finishing off the season strong when he was fully integrated from the injury. At his best, he is one of the most dangerous attacking fullbacks in MLS, frequently charging down the right flank, combining with the striker or attacking midfielder. More importantly, Afful allows for the Columbus formation to achieve a key tactical wrinkle.
Because of his attacking tendency, Afful created space for his wing partner (usually the left-footed Pedro Santos) to cut inside and almost form a double number ten situation in the middle. Without that support on the wing, the attack on the entire right side struggles to find width, meaning additional dominos need to fall in order to compensate. At 33, Afful is no young man so relying on him to perform this athletically demanding role might be a little foolish. But as Columbus’ form with and without him prove, this entire season might hinge on him returning to form.