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COLUMBUS CREW 2013 SEASON PREVIEW
While the Columbus Crew has ranked near the top of the league in wins over the past decade, the 2012 season was one to forget for the squad. The Crew finished in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and 10th overall in the MLS, and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. After such a disappointing year, the Crew went back to the drawing board to improve their roster and should have plenty of new stars and role players to make a run at the MLS Cup in 2013. The Crew has key home games against D.C. United, Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls, as well as a few tough away matches against the San Jose Earthquakes, Sporting KC and the Los Angeles Galaxy during the 2013 season.

As one of the charter members of the MLS, the Columbus Crew has been among the top teams in the league for much of its history, making it to the playoffs 11 times since the league came into being and capturing their sole MLS Cup in 2008. After making the playoffs each year since 2007, the Crew had a bit of a down year in 2012 when they just missed out on the playoffs with a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and 10th in the league overall. However, the Crew was one of the busiest teams in the offseason and made a slew of transactions that could propel them back into the playoffs and possibly into MLS Cup contention.

The squad made a flurry of moves in the offseason and was one of the most active MLS franchises on the international market, where they found quality role players like midfielders Matias Sanchez and Agustin Viana, as well as Brazilian defender Gláuber. The Crew parted with defenders Sebastian Miranda, Nemanja Vukovic, Rich Balchan, and midfielders Chris Birchall, Dilly Duka and Cole Grossman, but picked up a series of solid replacements in defenders Drew Beckie, Tyson Wahl and Chad Barson, as well as midfielders Wil Trapp and Ryan Finley. The team also made a splash by signing forward Dominic Oduro, who should bring speed and intensity to the front line.

The Columbus Crew will rely heavily on last year's late-season acquisition, midfielder Federico Higuain, who was one of the most electric players on the team's roster. Higuain made the most of his limited opportunities and created the third-most scoring chances per 90 minutes of any player in the MLS. Viana and Sanchez will join him in the complete makeover of the midfielder position.

At forward, the team will lean on the trio of Jairo Arrieta, Eddie Gaven and Dominic Oduro, all of whom should upgrade the team's speed at the spot. Finally, goalkeeper Andy Guenebaum could be the linchpin of the team's defensive success and will sort out the many new faces the team has on defense. From top to bottom, the Columbus Crew certainly has plenty of new faces, but if they have time to gel, they have just as much talent as any team in the MLS and could become a surprise playoff contender in 2013.

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4/16/2014 1:37:55 AM on TCWEB2