The Columbus Crew, who days ago had barely more than half of their roster spots filled (17 of 30), took advantage of the MLS SuperDraft on Thursday afternoon to pick up four new players, at the cost of saying goodbye to one of last year’s leading scorers. The new players are defender Rich Balchan, forward Justin Meram, midfielder Cole Grossman, and midfielder Bernardo Anor.
Defender Rich Balchan, Indiana
Balchan’s selection, for some observers, continued the Crew’s pattern of surprising first-round draft picks. A natural right back who has also played on the left flank and centrally, Balchan helps add defensive depth to every position. However, several pre-draft observers expected the team to focus on the midfield, with various projections having the team selecting Michael Nanchoff, Anthony Ampaipitakwong, and Cole Grossman.
Coach Robert Warzycha, however, told the MLS website after the draft that the team’s strategy was instead to shore up the back line. “We are thin in every single area so whoever was going to be the best available we would take … We thought Balchan was the best player in that group (of defenders).”
Warzycha continued, describing Balchan as “a good overall athlete … he’s very versatile and can play in different positions. He’s a lot like Danny O’Rourke and was a good pick-up for us.”
Forward Justin Meram, Michigan
The Crew’s choice to acquire Meram led the team to complete their only draft-day trade, sending forward Steven Lenhart to San Jose in exchange for the 15th overall pick and allocation money. Meram, a junior college transfer from Yavapai College, scored 17 goals and eight assists last fall, forming half of a strike partnership that led the Wolverines to the College Cup.
Taken together, the transactions effectively mean that Columbus swapped the 24-year-old Lenhart – who reportedly wanted to return to California where he grew up – for a slightly younger midwesterner.
The change brings no salary cap relief for the Crew, as Lenhart was earning the league minimum salary according to the MLS Players Union. Lenhart, however, was entering the last year of his contract – so the Crew was facing the prospect of paying Lenhart a higher salary for the 2012 season, which they have now avoided by picking up another rookie.
Midfielder Cole Grossman, Duke
Grossman is a midfielder who leaves the Duke Blue Devils with a career total of 25 goals and 24 assists in 70 games played. Joe Mauceri, the analyst behind the blog Pro Player Pipeline, published these notes for Grossman after the combine’s third game:
good long pass to Murray down the sideline. dispossessed by aggressive defenders; from 1/10/11 (+), scored 1st goal. transitions well from defense to offense. needs to make hard tackles and not rely on finesse. ; From 1/8/11 (adequate), playing deep midfield provided a few balls, but he needs to do more. Additionally, I need to watch his defensive positioning and tackling.
It is worth noting that Mauceri ranked Grossman as the 10th-best midfielder in the draft (44th overall), ahead of several players who were taken before him.
Midfielder Bernardo Anor, South Florida
Where the team took fairly known quantities with its first three picks, the selection of Bernardo Anor found the team reaching significantly outside the expected player pool. Anor, a native of Caracas, Venezuela who played for the University of South Florida, did not appear on any of the pre-draft analyses by any leading analyst. His only notable honors have been at the conference level (3rd team All-Big East as a freshman, 2nd team as a junior and senior), and a Freshman All-American nod from the College Soccer News.
Anor’s selection was not a random choice, however. Warzycha told Dispatch reporter Shawn Mitchell that Anor trained with the Crew last year. The coach described Anor as “a creative, left-footed player [who] played across the middle and also as a second forward.”
Should he win a roster spot, Anor would continue the Crew’s recent tradition of signing players with Venezuelan connections. Alejandro Moreno used the team’s 2008 MLS Cup triumph to restart his international career with ‘La Vinotinto’, while Emilio Renteria has continued that success. Anor, for his part, is a former member of the country’s U-15 and U-20 national teams.
Supplemental Draft up next
The team’s next opportunity to add to their roster will come next Tuesday. On that date, the league will hold a three round Supplemental Draft via conference call. Columbus currently holds only two picks in that draft, in the second round (#30 overall) and third round (#48 overall). Their natural first round pick (#12 overall) was traded to DC United as part of the Jed Zayner trade last fall.
Columbus opens its first training camp next week.
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