Sometimes I wonder what is real and what is a dream. It's far easier to live in a dream world and not have to deal with reality. Alas, that would be utopia, which we all know does not exist. The trick, my friends, is to take it one step at a time and hope for the best. One calculated foot in front of the other, always striving to do better and to be better. But, when mediocrity is accepted as the norm, you are doomed. There's not enough scotch to deal with Doom. The hole that was (and still is) being dug is getting exponentially larger with each passing day.
Although human emotions generally tend to overshadow reason, there comes a time when one must say, enough is enough. Who, in a position of power, has the cojones to step up and declare "Enough is ENOUGH"? When was being mediocre an acceptable happenstance for a professional soccer club? A perennial "mid-table team" is just going through the motions, which equals mediocrity any way you slice it. That's not to say that it can't be changed. It can. Fortitude, willpower, cojones and a burning desire to make money (an American pastime, most assuredly) are what it will take to rise from the primordial ooze of mediocrity.
Thus, we have arrived at the crux of the biscuit. There are three quotes from Robert Warzycha that jumped out and slapped me across the face, reinforcing the notion of someone who seems to have lost touch. Either that, or I'm watching a totally different series of games than he is. The first came from the beginning of the dip in the level of play when asked if he was frustrated about not winning. "I'm not frustrated", he said. "Really?", I thought at the time. The Black and Gold had just lost lost 2-0, at home, to Colorado. I thought my head might explode from that statement, coupled with the fact that losing 2-0 at home didn't seem to faze him. It must be the Eastern European stoicism that was instilled in him from a very young age growing up behind the Iron Curtain. Look it up, kids. It was real.
The second quote to leave me pondering just what was going on inside that melon of his, came after the 2-1 win in the Third Round of the U.S. Open Cup (at home) vs the Dayton Dutch Lions. This was a Dayton squad that played with a 10 man team for the better part of 76 minutes. This was also the match where Eddie Gaven was stretchered off the field with an ACL injury. He said, I'm glad THAT'S over...", to start his press conference. This was a team that they should have beaten, without all of the drama.
The third, and final quote, comes from the post-match press conference after beating Montreal (top of the table in the East) 2-0 at Crew Stadium. "The game didn't look different from the games we played at home before. The difference was the goals", Robert said. "If you remember the game against Colorado, against New York, against Houston, I think they were good games." And "BOOM", my head exploded. Could I really be hearing from him that he thought they were "good games"? Against Colorado, they lost 2-0. Against New York, they lost 1-0. And, against Houston, they tied 1-1. All of these were at home. They lost on aggregate, at home, 4-1 in a 30 day span.
These instances, on the surface and alone wouldn't necessarily call for the coach's head on a silver platter. But, taken in the larger context of his tenure as the "Head Tylzycki in Charge", you must realize that it is time for the Crew to cut the umbilical cord and move on. Doctors in maternity wards do this on a daily basis. It really is a simple process. SNIP!!, and you move on.
Now why would I say that Robert Warzycha must go? If all of you don't already know the answer, maybe it's time to look at some history. Bear with me, you'll be a more educated fan for it.
Having played, and been an assistant coach, for the Crew since the inaugural season in 1996, Robert Warzycha was elevated to the head coach position in 2009. In the four and a half years since taking the reigns, full time, of the Crew, he has won exactly ONE piece of silverware (Supporters Shield, 2009). In that time, he has not advanced past the Conference Semifinals in the MLS. He has advanced to the Final in the U.S. Open Cup only once (and the Round of 16 twice), before bowing out. And, he has failed to qualify two out of four years for the CONCACAF Champions Cup/Champions League, advancing to the Quarterfinal round twice before bowing out.
Add to this the fact that his record as a coach is mid-table, at best. He's 60-45-38 (2009 through 6/15/13) in regular season MLS games. That is the record of a coach that is serviceable for a mid-table coach. That is NOT the record of a coach whose President and GM states at the beginning of the season, that they are making gainful strides towards the clubs goal of 10,000 season ticket sales and says that they want to WIN the MLS Cup at the end of the season.
Add to that, between 2009 and 2012, they have an average attendance of 13,905. It doesn't show a sharp drop off in numbers, but it is trending downwards. The club cannot hope to reach their 10K Goal on the backs of fickle and casual mid-west fans that ask "What have you won for me lately?"
Are you still with me? Did you refill your beverage of choice for the end bit? You did? Good.
This all brings our long and convoluted journey back to the game on June 15, 2013 against Montreal. It all started in the concrete jungle, among the tents of various fans and supporters groups. Walking with trepidation, lest any ogres jump out and attempt to bite me, I observed the masses in their natural game day habitat. While one fan slapped a brat in my hand and many others tried to bribe me with beer, I searched out the leadership of the three main supporters groups. I hoped that they might shed some insight into what their members were thinking and feeling about the club. Don't get me wrong, I knew they were ardent supporters. But, I also knew that they had opinions longing to be set free.
After what seemed like hours, I stumbled upon the Crew Supporters Union (est. 2006) tent and dragged their President (since 2007), John Clem, away from that throng of humanity. Thrusting a beer into his hand as I edged my recorder closer to him, he began to speak. "Our official stance is that we try not to be too antagonistic, either way, because we're always trying to support the team. At least at this point in time. We know that our members aren't happy. As an individual, I'm not thrilled with the direction the team is currently headed." Being the political beast that he is, and I don't fault him for this, he gave very "spin-like" answers. He's doing what's best for the group. But, knowing this about him, I also knew that he would be a tough nut to crack.
Enough with being oblique, it was time to hit him point blank. Besides the coach, I asked him if there were other changes that could or should be made. "I know that people want to be hard on (Mark) McCullers, and I get that. HSG (Hunt Sports Group, owners of the Crew) tells him to focus on the business. I don't think he's involved in the day-to-day operations, that falls to Warzycha and Bliss. I feel like the blame falls to them for that. But first, you have to question some of the choices about who gets on the field on a day-to-day basis. Are you playing the best people in the best positions?"
He closed with this, "We've got to do something better than what we're currently doing." Which is astute, to say the least. I thanked him for taking the time to speak with me, before thrusting another beer in his hand and weaving my way through the sea of humanity surrounding his corner of the world.
Dodging the rows of corn-hole games in progress amid this sea of tailgating nirvana, I sought out the masked leadership of the Hudson Street Hooligans (est. 2006). No names, as it was all very hush-hush. Interestingly, I found the skull on his mask disturbingly comforting. I found him holding court above a bevy of members that listened with rapt attention to every word that slithered from his lips. Glowering at me like I was some two-bit wanna-be, he told me his tale of discontent.
"I think it's past time", he said of firing Robert Warzycha. "At this point, it's no longer about performance on the field. Robert Warzycha is impacting the ability of this club to turn a profit." Well, what do you think about that, I thought. I've hit the mother lode. "He's impacting the ability to sell tickets. He's impacting the ability of the club in reaching Mark McCuller's goal of Goal 10K. I think that Robert Warzycha is severely impacting the ability of the club to make money."
The true feelings of the hardcore supporters was standing before me, in all of its' glory. These are the hard-working people who spend their discretionary money on buying Crew tickets, week after week. As for the allegations of collusion between the Crew and FC Dallas (both owned by HSG), he said "This is Hunt Sports Group taking power and giving it from one brother to another. FC Dallas is in the chase for an MLS Cup. The Crew is all but done in 2013. This was nothing more than family helping family. The members of the Hooligans have enough smarts to call it the bullshit that it is. It is collusion"
With my head reeling, I spun away from him and went in search of a beer. The supporters knew more than what many in the media would give them credit for. As I used my superior powers of olfactory prowess, the Modelo scent was wafting my way and marking the trek to my final destination of the consigliere to whom I was speaking with today. It was calling me to La Turbina Amarilla (est 2006), home of great food, good beer and footy passion that formed the fabric of their culture. The Latin American "flair" was what I most wanted (and needed) to hear.
The soaring scent of grilling meat and tortillas was making my mouth glisten like water flowing over the Hoover Dam. With the drums beating a tattoo of chants into my skull, I did my best to keep my mind focused on the task at hand. "This year, at the beginning of the season, we had high hopes", Blanca Rico said to me, "And now, I think that our members think that a change in the coaching staff would definitely be beneficial. In order to make effective change, you have to make several changes. That includes Front Office, Coaches and sometimes, unfortunately, players."
Tomas Quintana expounded on Blanca's remarks. "The futbol, or soccer, culture in Latin America... if you do badly for 5 or 8 games, everybody revolts. Here, it seems like everybody is like 'let's give him a chance' and he always has excuses like 'We had chances, but we couldn't make it happen'. But, once it starts sounding like the same tape being played after every game, after a while we wondered 'are they focused on winning or do they know they already sold us tickets for the season, so...'
"I can't speak for the other (supporters) groups, but I believe they, as well as us, have had a decline in membership. The loyal core will come out, no matter how bad the team plays. We're supporters and not just fans. We're here for the good and the bad. I remarked that it seemed as if Robert Warzycha had a double edged sword held against his throat, to which he replied, "If he doesn't put out a lineup to win the US (Open) Cup, people give him a hard time about that. But if he does and an injury happens, everybody hates him for it. But, you want him to play to win."
"Overall, I would say that he's had a chance, he tore apart the squad that everybody loved with the promise of young talent coming up, but he mismanaged that talent. He left us wondering, what is the outlook? What is he looking to get out of this?" At this point, I was a pile of goo. The supporters are way more knowledgeable than most people give them credit for. I suspected this. My talks with these people confirmed my suspicions.
As I stumbled toward the confines of the relative safety of Crew Stadium, I tried to process all of the heated, varied and hotly contested opinions that I had just heard within the circumference of my cerebral synapses. There was but one conclusion that could be derived from not only the supporters, but also from the historical record of the last 4.5 years of the present coach. Robert Warzycha's time as the head coach of the Columbus Crew is at an end. In America, it's all about the Benjamin's. "Show me the money", as the saying goes, holds much weight. Hunt Sports Group does this to make money. The end of the "Warzycha Era" is here. It is time to cut the cord and move on.