Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: Columbus Crew

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(Over the next week we’ll look at two or three Major League Soccer clubs per day, considering what they need to accomplish and what questions deserve answers during preseason training camps. Opening day in MLS is March 2.)

Anyone else thinking that manager Robert Warzycha has to get it right this year?

Things started well enough when the former Polish international took over for Sigi Schmid back in 2009. A Supporters Shield was claimed and the team made the playoffs.

That’s been the high water mark, however. Two subsequent playoff appearances have helped maintain a certain level of success, although the club is still looking for its first post-season win since claiming the MLS Cup under Schmid back in 2008.

Last year saw a back slide as the Crew failed to qualify for the playoffs; they just couldn’t keep the momentum going from Federico Higuain’s fantastic start.

So as camp begins in 2013, the pressure is surely building. Answering these three questions would things begin moving the right direction.

  • Can the new faces get acquainted quickly?

It seems a little early for a roster re-do, seeing as the Crew pretty much took a sledgehammer to the side just two years ago. But here we are.

Dilly Duka, brimming with potential, wants a trade. Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic has just moved on. Sebastian Miranda, Cole Grossman and Emilio Renteria are out of there, as well.

Longtime No. 1 William Hesmer is gone, having lost his spot to Andy Gruenebaum. Gruenebaum will start in goal, but they’ll need a reliable backup. So the team will need to integrate lots of replacement parts.

MLS vet Tyson Wahl has made Columbus his latest stop. Brazilian veteran Gláuber was just signed to partner with Chad Marshall in the center of Columbus’ defense. Club GM Mark McCullers says several new signings may be announced over the coming days and weeks; the blog Massive Report says defensive midfielder Matías Sánchez may be one of them.

  • How best to build around and capitalize on Higuain?

Over 17 MLS seasons, few players have landed with such a ferocious impact as the Argentine attacker did last season. Higuain started only 11 matches and yet still managed to generate some league MVP chatter.

Clearly, the Crew have found something potentially quite special in their 28-year-old forward / attacking midfielder, whose resume includes stops at Boca Juniors and River Plate, and whose brother Gonzalo is among the Galacticos of Real Madrid.

“Something special” means one thing: you build around the guy, fitting the parts and designing the system concentrically around his particular set of abilities. Warzycha and his staff didn’t have time to do so last year. Now they do.

  • How to get the best from everyone?

I love Eddie Gaven and continue to see him as one of Major League Soccer’s most underrated men. Then again, wouldn’t it be nice to see the team’s busy flank midfielder get more than two assists (to go with those nine goals, which, to be fair, is above average production for his position). No one has quite unlocked Tony Tchani’s full potential, which is mostly about making him more consistent. Chad Marshall can still dominate, but he can have his off nights, as well.

Once Warzycha and McCullers fill in the roster gaps, getting the best from the familiar faces around Crew Stadium will certainly help the cause and ease the significant transition ahead.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: D.C. United

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.