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Columbus will rely on new faces again
Columbus, OH (Sports Network) - Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha starts his fourth season in charge facing many of the same questions as he did last year.

Warzycha made a major overhaul in Columbus prior to last season, and continued to tinker with the Crew this offseason. In November of 2010, Columbus declined the option on former MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto and other key veterans.

Columbus found a new star in Andres Mendoza, who had a team-high 13 goals, and Robbie Rogers escaped an up-and-down season with a team-high seven assists and two goals.

When the campaign was over, a 13-13-8 record and a playoff berth was a testament to Warzycha's coaching abilities.

He faces another challenge in the upcoming season.

This offseason, Mendoza and Rogers departed. Mendoza was released, but quickly found a new job with Mexican club Atlante. Rogers went to Europe, signing with English Championship side Leeds United.

It's not as though Warzycha had nothing left to work with, as underrated Eddie Gaven and steady Chad Marshall remain to anchor the club. Gaven had five goals and an assist in 26 starts last season, while Marshall started 32 games.

In addition to that duo, which has made 19 appearances combined for the United States national team, current U.S. Under-23 midfielder Dilly Duka may be ready for a breakout season with a starting spot likely his on the wing.

And the club's late-season slide told Warzycha there was work to do during the winter. Although Mendoza and Rogers departed, Chilean international midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and Costa Rican forward Olman Lopez were added.

Warzycha needs both to adjust to Major League Soccer immediately and provide offense. And he needs Venezuelan forward Emilio Renteria, who had eight goals last year and is the team's top returning scorer, to replicate last season.

Columbus is also blessed with a good core of young talent in addition to Gaven and Duka, with Ben Speas, Tony Tchani and first-round pick Ethan Finlay among the other players on the roster who are 25 or younger.

Now it's up to Warzycha to piece it all together - again.

"We're all trying to get on the same page," Gaven said. "We've definitely made some big strides in that aspect. We'll just keep on trying to get better, and keep on trying to jell."

2011 IN REVIEW: Columbus survived Warzycha's overhaul, opening the season with an impressive 11-7-7 record to spark a run to the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. But the Crew were just 2-6-1 in their last nine regular season games - good enough for third in the Eastern Conference but just ninth in the league table. Columbus' playoffs were over after one game, a 1-0 loss at the Colorado Rapids, however, as its late-season slump carried into the postseason.

ACQUISITIONS: Jamie Finch (D), Ethan Finlay (F), Kevan George (M), Matt Lampson (GK) Carlos Mendes (D), Milovan Mirosevic (M/F), Aubrey Perry (D), Ben Speas (M/F), Kirk Urso (M), Olman Vargas (F).

LOSSES: Kevin Burns (M), Jeff Cunningham (F), Emmanuel Ekpo (M), Josh Gardner (D), Andres Mendoza (F), Santiago Prim (M), Robbie Rogers (M), Dejan Rusmir (D).

OUTLOOK: The Crew were able to jell early last year despite major changes, and will be faced with the same challenge this season. But even if Columbus starts the season slowly, it's unlikely it will have too steep of a mountain to climb to earn one of five playoff spots from the Eastern Conference. Warzycha proved last season not to count out the Crew, and it's tough to rule them out again.

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