With the 2011 Major League Soccer season underway and the preseason complete, it is now appropriate to take stock of the roster that has been assembled by head coach Robert Warzycha. After starting with the goalkeepers on Wednesday, this review moves up to the defenders who try to prevent opposing shots while building possession forward.
Here are the defenders who have been associated with the Columbus Crew during the 2011 season. This list includes players who are currently under contract, who have been released or traded, and those who have joined the team temporarily on a trial.
Because of the transitory nature of many trials, this list is most likely not comprehensive. If you spot an omission, please email Matt at email@example.com
This series will continue on Friday with the midfielders before concluding with the team’s forwards on Saturday.
* indicates players who are currently under contract
* Rich Balchan, #2
Balchan was the Crew’s first draft pick in the 2011 SuperDraft, and has earned a starting spot and rave reviews through his versatility and speed in the preseason. He started at center back during the Champions League quarterfinals, and moved to left back for the season’s first game at DC United. He has also had collegiate experience at right back and holding midfielder.
Fraga joined the Crew for the first preseason trip, to Arizona. He appeared in three games, starting the February 5th game against Kansas City.
* Shaun Francis, #29
Francis is a left back who emerged as a capable starter in 2010 after being selected in the last round of the SuperDraft. He displaced long-time starter Gino Padula, and has appeared several times for the Jamaican National Team.
* Josh Gardner, #31
Gardner is a left-sided defender who joined the team during the 2011 preseason after spending several years in the lower divisions. He previously played with the Los Angeles Galaxy. He started both legs of the Champions League quarterfinals against Real Salt Lake, but lost his spot to Rich Balchan during the last few games of the preseason.
* Andy Iro, #4
Iro is a veteran central defender who was drafted in 2008 from the UC-Santa Barbara. After being a reserve to Danny O’Rourke and Eric Brunner his first two years, he assumed the starters role in 2010 – eventually playing more minutes (3,057) than his defensive partner Chad Marshall (2,907).
* Julius James, #26
James has been a journeyman defender who has played with Houston, Toronto, and DC United before joining the Crew late this preseason. He stepped immediately into the starting lineup at the heart of the defense, playing the full game in the team’s first game last weekend.
* Chad Marshall, #14
Marshall is a central defender, and is currently the longest-tenured player on the Crew roster. He was drafted in 2004 out of Stanford, and has been a starter his entire career when healthy. He has also been a reserve for the US National Team, but has been unable to become a regular starter due to the depth of American talent playing overseas. He has twice been named the MLS Defender of the Year, and surprised some observers when he did not leave the league following the 2008 MLS Cup-winning season.
* Sebastian Miranda, #21
Miranda is a veteran Chilean right back who was brought in to fill Frankie Hejduk’s spot on the depth chart. He played more minutes during the preseason than any other player, and has claimed the starting spot on the right side of the defense over several challengers.
Nyamekye is a central defender who was drafted by the Crew out of Harvard in 2010. The Crew attempted to sign him late that year, but an unspecified medical problem derailed the contract at the last minute (this hitch led to the team instead signing Josh Williams). Nyamekye appeared in training camp again before the 2011 season, and signed a professional contract along with several other rookies. He was on the substitutes bench for the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals. With the arrival of Julius James, however, Nyamekye’s spot on the roster became expendable and he was released before the league season began.
* Danny O’Rourke, #5
O’Rourke is a defensive-minded veteran who has seen action at every position on the back line, as well as defensive midfielder, in his four seasons in Columbus. He joined the Crew with William Hesmer in a trade with Toronto FC before the 2007 season. O’Rourke was a starter on the 2008 championship team alongside Chad Marshall, and over the last four seasons has been one of the most-used players on the squad (10,231 minutes in all competitions). He is currently recovering from offseason knee surgery.
* Ben Sippola, #24
Sippola is a rookie from Butler University. He appears as a defender on the Crew’s official roster but was a defensive-minded midfielder in college. He appears to be somewhat far down the team’s depth chart at the beginning of the season, having played 228 minutes (no starts) in preseason and was an unused substitute in the reserve team’s first game.
* Korey Veeder, #23
Veeder is a defender whose rights were awarded to the Crew after a special lottery after the 2011 SuperDraft. He did not attend college, having signed with Crystal Palace Baltimore as a youth player. He is expected to miss several games this season as a member of Thomas Rongen’s U-20 National Team, where he has been named to the roster for the regional championships starting soon.
* Josh Williams, #3
Williams is a versatile defender who joined the team late in the 2010 season. His only appearances thus far have been overseas, playing on the road twice in the CONCACAF Champions League. Both games saw him play right back, although he has also been described as a central defender by some observers.
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