Goalkeepers Depth Chart: 1. William Hesmer, 2. Andy Gruenebaum, 3. Matt Lampson Strengths: Hesmer has a ton of experience as a starter, and Gruenebaum has a plenty of experience as his backup. The roles are already defined, so it will be interesting to see how they progress under new goalkeeper coach Scoop Stanisic. Weaknesses: Hesmer is injured at the moment, leaving Gruenebaum to take hold of the starting spot until he returns. Both need to command the box better. Hesmer hasn’t stolen points with big saves the past two seasons as he did in 2008 and ’09. Wildcard: Lampson is a Home Grown signing from Ohio State who has decent size (6-foot-3, 190) and is very vocal. The problem will be finding him games. READ: 2012 Columbus Crew Preview Defense Depth Chart: RB: 1. Sebastián Miranda, 2. Korey Veeder, 3. Aubrey Perry CB: 1. Chad Marshall – Julius James, 2. Carlos Mendes, 3. Josh Williams LB: 1. Shaun Francis, 2. Jamie Finch Strengths: Chad Marshall is the anchor in the middle and will control the air. Julius James is recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be available until late March or April. Miranda was quietly effective on the right side last season and rarely fouls or is out of position. Weaknesses: Shaun Francis’ development was stymied during his second season in 2011 because injuries limited him to six games. He needs to bounce back from that setback. On the other side, Miranda could use a backup after playing all but 16 minutes last season and looking fatigued toward the end. Wildcard: Rookie Aubrey Perry from South Florida has quickness that is lacking in the back. He’s raw but has a major upside. SEE: Preseason Schedule and Results Midfield Depth Chart: LM: 1. Dilly Duka, 2. Bernardo Anor, 3. Kevan George CM (attacking): 1. Milovan Mirosevic, 2. Cole Grossman, 3. Kirk Urso CM (holding): 1. Tony Tchani, 2. Danny O’Rourke, 3. Eric Gehrig 4. Rich Balchan. RM: 1. Eddie Gaven, 2. Ethan Finlay. Strengths: The Crew were a good possession team at their best but often did little to create prime chances. Mirosevic should be able to put his teammates in dangerous spots and possibly get more goals from Eddie Gaven and Dilly Duka, among others, on the flanks. Weaknesses: Depth will be a problem until some of the young players – and there are many in the midfield – acquire more experience. Balchan is currently injured, pushing him down the depth chart. Wildcard: Rookie Kirk Urso expected to be taken in the MLS SuperDraft but fell to the Crew in the Supplemental Draft. He has good vision and control and is eager to show the other teams they made a mistake in not choosing him. READ: Columbus Crew 2011 season statistics Forwards Depth Chart: 1. Olman Vargas, 2. Emilio Rentería, 3. Tommy Heinemann, 4. Justin Meram, 5. Ben Speas, 6. Aaron Horton Strengths: Vargas and Rentería could be one of the best combos in MLS if they can develop some chemistry. Both can handle physical play. Weaknesses: Rentería is injury prone and played only 18 games (eight goals) last season, although some of his absences were due to time with the Venezuela’s national team. Tommy Heinemann is a capable backup but squandered too many chances. Wildcard: The Crew are excited about the potential of Speas, a Home Grown player who led North Carolina to the College Cup title in 2011, a year after doing the same for Akron. He’s smart and and can be effective in the midfield, too. Setting the Scene Tabbed for the bottom of the Eastern Conference in 2011 after a major overhaul, the Crew (13-13-8) proved critics wrong for three-fourths of the season until limping across the finish line with a 2-6-1 mark to end the season followed by a playoff exit at Colorado. Inconsistency from the forwards and a lack of any scoring threats coming through the midfield put pressure on the defense to step up – and it didn’t. A main culprit was the instability at the holding midfielder position due to an abundance of injuries. The Crew made no significant upgrades there but hope the return to health of Rich Balchan, Danny O’Rourke and Tony Tchani provides a fix. The goal of improving the attack was met with the addition of Chilean midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas, who replaces leading scorer Andrés Mendoza (13 goals in 2011). Mirosevic can play behind the forwards, as Guillermo Barros Schelotto did successfully for the Crew for many years, and will provide the type of dead-ball service that Columbus fans have missed since Schelotto’s departure after the 2010 season. Left back remains a concern with Shaun Francis holding the spot for now while the Crew continue the search for alternatives. BUY COLUMBUS TICKETS HERE In and Out IN: D Carlos Mendes (12/5: Re-Entry Stage 1/New York); G Matt Lampson (12/15: Home Grown); M Milovan Mirosevic (1/4: free/Universidad Católica); F Olman Vargas (1/6: free/Club Herediano); F Ben Speas (1/11: Home Grown); F Ethan Finlay (1/12: SuperDraft); D Aubrey Perry (1/12: SuperDraft); M Kevan George (1/12: SuperDraft): M Kirk Urso (1/17: supplemental draft); D Jamie Finch (1/17: supplemental draft); F Darren Amoo (1/17: supplemental draft); F Andrew Bulls (1/17: supplemental draft) OUT: D Josh Gardner (11/23: expansion draft); M Santiago Prim (11/23: waived); D Dejan Rusmir (11/23: waived); F Andrés Mendoza (12/6: option declined); M Kevin Burns (12/12: option declined); F Jeff Cunningham (12/12: option declined); M Robbie Rogers (1/11: free/Leeds United); M Emmanuel Ekpo (2/23: free/Molde) READ: 2012 Columbus Crew Depth Chart Star Attraction: Milovan Mirosevic The comparisons are inevitable – South American playmaking midfielder with excellent leadership – but the Crew brass doesn’t want to label Mirosevic (pictured right) as the next Schelotto, the Argentine who was named league MVP in 2008 and led Columbus to the MLS Cup. However, Mirosevic does have a quality that suggests the days of the offense dying in the final third could be over. He has great vision, an accurate shot and the versatility to play as a forward if needed. As a bonus, defender Chad Marshall will finally have someone who can get the ball to his head from corner kicks. READ: Countdown to First Kick: 25 Columbus' new hope Unsung Hero: Eddie Gaven Coach Robert Warzycha doesn’t think twice about putting Gaven’s name on the lineup card. He knows the indefatigable midfielder can play either side or in the middle if needed. But a leg injury in early August showed Gaven’s real worth. After winning the first two games in his absence, the Crew went winless in six until he scored the winner in his return against D.C. United on Oct. 2. Gaven had five goals in 26 games and was among the leaders in fouls suffered until his injury, often taking one for the team to set up a free kick. Ready for Primetime: Dilly Duka After the midfielder voiced his displeasure over playing only three matches during his rookie season in 2010, a humbler but no less eager Duka (pictured right) was rewarded for his patience at the end of the 2011 with more minutes, particularly when Robbie Rogers was injured. Duka scored his first goal in the next to last match at New England and followed with another goal a week later against Chicago. An offseason trip to Europe with the US U-23s and a possible spot on the Olympic team attempting to qualify for London in March should boost Duka’s game to match his bravado. READ: Crew proud to join rich sporting tradition of Barbasol Storylines to Watch 1. Can Danny O'Rourke stay healthy? Having O’Rourke for just six games last season as he struggled to recover from 2010 knee surgery cost the Crew not only his leadership in the locker room but flexibility on the field. If O’Rourke is at full strength, he’ll battle Tony Tchani at defensive midfield, but he can also provide cover at any of the back-line positions. With the team not convinced Francis can do the job at left back, O’Rourke’s versatility could come into play there as well. 2. How will the club approach the transfer market midseason? Technical director Brian Bliss admits he wishes he would have signed someone during the 2011 summer transfer window to help the team down the stretch. He won’t make the same mistake if the right deal is out there. He is not shy in stating the Crew are looking for another forward and has the resources to afford a Designated Player that could could make an immediate impact. What He Said “We saw at the end of the last year that we had the core but obviously we needed something else. That something else is we added Mirosevic and Vargas. Hopefully, we’ll also add a DP that will be something extra.” – Crew head coach Robert Warzycha SEE: 2012 Season Preview Archive If Everything Goes Right A sense of rejuvenation permeates the organization. There’s a new jersey sponsor (Barbasol), an expansive new TV deal with FOX Sports Ohio and season ticket sales are on the rise. Now it’s up the players and staff to continue the momentum. If a good crop of young players develop, they might provide the energy to help avoid the late swoons of the past two seasons. Adding a Designated Player – preferably a striker – during the summer would also boost the offense and morale. If that happens, there’s no reason the Crew should finish lower than third in the Eastern Conference.