Although the skies were sunny and the temperature was hovering around 80 degrees, there was a pall of angst that was visible as I moved through the vast expanse of parking lots at Crew Stadium. The usual sounds of happy campers was noticeably absent from the tailgate "parties" as I gazed around. The "Operation June 1 Sellout" campaign raised awareness for the team, but the sea of concrete and asphalt was still sparsely populated. Could the recent announcement of Eddie Gaven being sidelined for the rest of the season be the culprit for these doldrums?
Each fan that I encountered had a sadness in their eyes. They all virtually said the same thing, too. It wasn't so much angst or trepidation about what the Black and Gold would do without Gaven. It was mostly a feeling of resignation. They were resigned to the fact that their beloved Crew would be no better, nor any worse (they hope), without him. The feeling was one of "let's play out the string, and then see what happens". This, on the first of June, was not entirely a shocking revelation, to say the least. Now I understood why rain was in the forecast for that evening.
Leaving the clouds of resignation behind me (I fervently hoped), I weaved my way through the labyrinth of the stadium to the upper tier where the assembled media had gathered. With my Hawaiian shirt announcing that I had arrived and adding a splash of color to the otherwise neutral tones of the press box, I settled in for a Saturday evening match. My weapons of destruction were at the ready; a pen and a pad of paper.
The hometown boys came out swinging as the match got underway. They moved the ball with zeal and created chances This could get interesting, I thought. Might they finally be shrugging the monkey of only winning one home game this season off their backs? You know how this story ends, I'm sure. It's the same broken record that's been playing all season. Move the ball, create the chance and then? You guessed it, they still can't finish. Chance after chance was not seized upon. What does this squad have to do to find the back of the net?
While Houston scored in the first half to lead 1 - nil, it took until the 69' mark for the Crew to score. On a penalty kick, no less. Granted, set pieces have been somewhat kind to them this season. But, they won't always win you the match, as evidenced by the 1-1 final score. The frustration and resignation that the fans are showing is better understood now. Even the vaunted and normally quite loud Nordecke was uncommonly quiet on this evening.
Robert Warzycha was his usual nonplussed self after the draw. "I'm not frustrated", he said. "I wish that we could have scored our goals because the atmosphere would be much better and people would like it and everybody would be happier." The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, each time expecting a different result. Maybe there's money in the budget to send the squad to one of the last remaining finishing schools in Switzerland. In an elegant villa, high above Lake Geneva, lies Madame Neri's Institute Villa Pierrefeu. I'm not sure if she knows the finer points of putting the ball in the back of the goal, but it can't hurt. The term "grasping at straws" does come the forefront of the thought process. Oh well, never mind.
There is a "ho-humness" that surrounds this club that is frustrating to watch. The supporters are feeling it, too. Gone are the days when Crew Stadium was a venerable fortress to play in. Their record at home this season speaks volumes. A paltry 1-2-3 record will not get you into the playoffs, let alone let you challenge for the MLS Cup. They have become consistent this season... consistently mid-table.
They surely need to take a page out of the other pro sports team (Columbus Blue Jackets) playbook. John Davidson (President of Hockey Operations) came in and changed the culture. There is a fire within the whole organization that is working. The fans have bought into this culture change, as well. Might a culture change be needed in Crew Nation? Is it overdue at this point?
By now, my frontal lobe is melting from trying to figure out exactly what this team is. They show flashes of brilliance followed by periods of mediocrity. I would hazard to guess that there is a fire that lies deep within each and every player on this squad. It needs to be fed, nurtured and allowed to burn fiercely. The question is, who will unleash it?