There is a deep and distant rumble inside Crew Soccer Nation that is getting progressively louder. It was at it's loudest at the end of last season, after a third straight disappointingly early playoff exit. It dwindled a bit over the winter, with news of new signings and improvements, but now, as 2012 is upon us and no longer just a circle on the calendar, the rumble is gaining strength again.
Columbus opened their Twenty-Twelve campaign with a loss at Colorado on Saturday night, news that will surprise very few who know the rivalry. It isn't the fact that the team lost on the weekend, but rather the manner in which they underperformed.
Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha, hampered by injuries and, well, things, trotted out a lineup that included rookie Kirk Urso, second-gamer Tony Tchani and sub-wunderkind Shaun Francis. Left to sit on the bench were Tommy Heinemann, Bernardo Anor, Eric Gerhig, and new-guy goal-scorer Olman Vargas.
You can imagine how this one went.
After Dilly Duka went down with a hamstring injury in the 12th minute and rookie Ethan Finlay spelled him, it was all but assumed that this was to be a typical Bobbyball "play not to lose" Crew match.
It wasn't until the 67th minute that Warzycha made an attacking minded sub, and when down 1-nil against a team that has been running roughshod, that seems to be about twenty minutes too late.
And there, as well as the perceived lack of preparation and intensity from the team on the field, is the issue that is causing heartburn and rumbling among Crew fans. We know, based on the same things - if not less - that the coaching staff has seen, that this team is capable of much more. We know that the twenty-eight members wearing our crest are capable winning games. We know that, when used correctly, these players will blow teams out.
We are torn. We know that attractive soccer isn't always successful, yet successful soccer isn't always attractive.
We also know that this was the first game of a very long season. But we all know what happens when complacency festers - just look across town to the occupants of Nationwide Arena.
I'm not going to say Warzycha doesn't want to win, like some have said. He's a natural competitor, and to say that would discount his entire professional career. What I will say is Warzycha may not know how to use the tools he has to build a winning team. Maybe, and I'm just talking here, he's just as confused as the rest of us.
I will say that the current product on the field isn't going to keep a lot of butts in seats. The Crew could repeat the ‘04 season and win the Supporters Shield by amassing points via tie, but by the end of the season the Nordecke would be alone in the House That Lamar Built. And this year, moreso than any other year I can think of, the Crew needs to put the ball in the back of the net, come hell or high water.
If the on the field product is boring Mr. and Mrs. Columbus Family won't come back to Crew Stadium, no matter what kind of sign boards are around the field or what kind of food is available on the concourses.
It pains my heart to say this, but losing as many 4-3 decisions as winning 4-1's to float around .500 for the season, all the while avoiding draws and securing a low-playoff seed (it's MLS, half the league will make the playoffs) could be the best thing for the club this year. Just play balls-out, generate excitement, win a Trillium or Pioneer Cup and make an ever-popular late-season playoff push to capture the hearts and wallets of central Ohio, and in the process secure a 2013 stadium sponsor.
It all starts with scoring goals.
This year, Robert Warzycha is steering the future of this business, and the rumble that you hear coming from Crew Soccer Nation is the sound of many frustrated fans clamoring for a change before it's too late.