It is difficult to assemble a team that can compete for a championship. Particularly in this post-expansion era, teams have little margin for error if they wish to win the Supporters Shield, or even MLS Cup. Building a roster can take several years of careful personnel management, and holding on to such a group of players for more than one or two seasons can prove even more challenging.
This challenge, and the Crew's attempts to confront it, form the basis of a visualization that I have been refining for several years: a Lineup Progression Chart. The following screencast reviews this tool, with more notes after the jump:
This chart style is still a work in progress, but one which I think is useful for understanding how a team evolves over time. While each team has to respond to these challenges every year, the Crew in particular are an interesting case study in possible strategies - with each head coach taking a slightly different course.
While Timo Liekoski never had to face the problem, Tom Fitzgerald did. Looking at how the Crew's roster changed - or failed to change - is instructive, particularly in the 1999 season in which only four new players were introduced to a group that could never quite get past the juggernaut that was DC United. One theory popular among observers at the time was that Fitzgerald may have struggled with the process of transitioning players out of the roster - something that coaches never have to confront in the collegiate game.
Greg Andrulis, also a collegiate coach, did have to oversee a period of transition, particularly midway through his tenure as the team suffered a rash of departures and retirements. The team's performance in subsequent years was not enough to preserve his job, however, which led to the wholesale changes that accompanied Sigi Schmid.
Schmid's arrival before the 2006 season precipitated the largest-scale rebuilding in the club's history - and it began a three-year process that culminated in the team's first MLS Cup trophy. What may be easy to miss in that simple narrative, however, is the fact that by the end of 2008, only one player that joined the team in 2006 was still making significant contributions: Eddie Gaven. Schmid thus can be seen as effecting two transitions (or perhaps a two-phase building process) in three years - sacrificing the 2006 season in order to clean house and build a championship-caliber from scratch starting in 2007.
Schmid's departure after the 2008 season left Warzycha finally in control of the club for whom he has worked since the league's inaugural year. After making minimal changes during his first two seasons, the club management made significant departures in 2010/11 - the effects of which are still being felt.