Preseason evaluations in any sport can be a tricky thing, to put it mildly. Not just for diehard supporters, bloggers and league watchers but for those closest to the team; trainers, team media, coaches, sideline reporters. All have to work their way through the muck and distraction to try and form shape.
Metaphorically the preseason could be seen as either shaping something from clay or chipping away on a large stone block in order to create a team. Both can be considered sculpture but one works with addition, building up and positive space and the other; subtraction and negative.
It's true that both disciplines can ultimately yield a masterpiece but 'tis just one that carries risk complete ruination. Over the past few years the Crew have shown that they use both disciplines it’s just they keep missing on one of them.
The Crew, like many successful teams, approach their "2nd Team" (or Reserve Team) as clay. Shaping and molding, adding clumps here and there, spinning on the wheel, adding moisture to keep it malleable.
But Columbus takes a vastly different approach to the 1st Team (the projected starters). It’s more of rolling in a new giant block of stone and getting busy with a hammer and chisel. Each hit on the stone has to be measured, precise, planned. One small miss hit and plans change. The piece has now has to get smaller, or perhaps missing an element altogether. Have another miss hit or perhaps apply too much force and the stone block is ruined. A second stone will be needed and the process started over.
The Crew have been rolling in stone blocks for the past 3 offseasons and chipping away without any maquette to guide them and trying to find a starting group somewhere hidden within.
Last year Olman Vargas and Milovan Mirosevic were intended (and billed) to be like some sort of Bernini’s David. Determined, brave, about to strike. Instead, with one, they just sort of stopped working with and the other they irreparably fractured due to a mindless thud to the chisel handle.
of STONE BLOCK
This year we see the same process taking place. More shapeless blocks of stone moved to Black and Gold Blvd. Agustin Viana, Glauber Berti, and Matias Sanchez. Shapeless because each similar to Vargas and Mirosevic in that they have no MLS or North American soccer experience. Is there a scale model out there they are following? Do they know what they are going to be? Or are they wishing for it. Pounding away at the block in hopes something resembling form comes out.
Andy Gruenebaum, Josh Williams, Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Eric Gehrig, Danny O’Rourke, Chad Marshall, Bernardo Anor, Ben Speas, Kevan George, Eddie Gaven. All these guys have been shaped (primarily) by the Columbus Crew and you can see it. They hold within them the Crew ethos of hard work, ‘putting in a shift’, never quitting.
A lot of the Crew’s success is tied to this. Theirs is an ethos that transcends current coaching staff. Transcends clocks that stop when play stops, clocks that count down, hockey-like penalty kicks, overtime, timeouts, league expansion/contraction/more expansion, designated players, reserve leagues, four subs, international roster spots, waiver drafts, supplemental drafts, super drafts... going back further, transcends the beloved Washington Dips.
Players in Columbus shaped within the Crew organization have played well this preseason, in reserve league action over the past two years and when they get a chance, they do well on the senior team.
Looking at it this way it’s no mystery why Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta fit into Columbus. Arrieta has a tireless work rate and a wicked internal fire. Higuain is creativity and skill through industry. No need to look any further than the fact he, the club’s best player and arguably most internationally recognized, has put in the most game minutes (344, tied with Wahl and Beckie) this preseason.
Then there is Tyson Wahl, and Dominic Oduro. Both projected as starters. Two players a combined eight (8) different Major League Soccer teams have tried to sculpt. Anyone, from sculptor to scrapbooker, spreadsheet wizard to automaker know that sometimes something is what it is and not much more can be done.
Returning players. Through six matches and one scrimmage the Crew have proved to be the superior side when roster slots 12 - 30+ are out there. This group of players is much improved from last year and exerting borderline dominance when playing.
NEEDS TIME, WORK AND A SCULPTOR’S HAND
Out of the projected starting 11 only four of them were with the team last offseason the other seven have been with the club less than a year.
Of the projected starters; Federico Higuain, Josh Williams, Eddie Gaven, Andy Gruenebaum and Chad Marshall have looked to be ready for opening day.
Jairo Arrieta and Tyson Wahl are getting there, perhaps Agustin Viana as well... but Matias Sanchez and Glauber Berti still need more time.
• For more on the Crew’s preseason stats head over to my Helltown blog. I’ve written about the performances of 1st Team / 2nd Team with comparisons and statistics.
• I will be in Orlando next weekend to check out the team in person, but what a great soccer world we live in right now where we can see just about every preseason game online.