The 2012 Columbus Crew is struggling, that is apparent to everyone from the most die hard fans to casual observers from around the metro area. No one is really sure why, but they just can't seem to string together more than three passes, let alone three wins.
After the game at Toronto last month, a somewhat convincing 1-0 victory, people thought that the growing pains were done with and the team had found itself in time to make a push for the Eastern Conference lead.
But now, after a 4-1 dismantling at the hands of New York and this weekend's 1-0 loss to Philadelphia, things aren't so bright in Crew Soccer Nation. In fact, the loss to Philly was such a bad display of professional soccer that the coaching staff is being taken to the woodshed in all corners of the internet, and doubts are being voiced as to head coach Robert Warzycha's ability to lead this team to anything more than mediocrity.You see, the problem isn't that the Crew lost a game, but rather to whom and the fashion in which it was lost. Until Columbus came to town, the Union was winless and had scored just two goals in four games while giving up six and were second to last in MLS. Crew faithful everywhere were sure the Black and Gold would get a result.
But that isn't at all what happened. The Union won, scoring on a PK after an Eric Gehrig handball in the box, and the Crew never threatened to recover. Some would say that they weren't given the tools to recover, that the decision to start Aaron Schoenfeld over Emilio Renteria put the team in a hole before the match started. That waiting until the 68th minute to make the first sub was too long, that Warzycha's midfield choices hamstrung the team. It was more than obvious that the Crew never had a chance after the Philly goal.
Me? I say the problem is that this team is boring to watch, in the worst possible way. That four goals in five games - given the amount of firepower on the bench - is saddening. That, whether by coaching or another phantom reason, the Crew doesn't put itself in position to win games.
There are teams, both in MLS and around the world, that play slow, measured, boring soccer yet win games and even championships. To paraphrase Top Gun, they just let you get bored and wait for you to screw up and then go in for the kill. That's the good kind of boring.
Our Columbus Crew, on the other hand, is playing soccer on par with a Kentucky high school team. Sure, they're kicking the ball around and might score a goal every now and then, but they seem so uninspired. So, unexciting. So, well, bored. I think a lot of people would feel better about this season so far if the squad were playing their collective tails off and just not getting results, but that isn't what's happening.
Last season, I think you all remember, I wrote a piece saying that the Crew had given up on the season, and therefore I was too. I may or may not have been wrong about that, but that's how I felt at the time. This year though, I'm just angry. And to make it worse, I'm not sure who to be angry at. Is it the players for not performing? Is it the coaches for not coaching? Is it the staff for not preparing the team? Is it the Technical Director for letting good talent go and then not signing new, equally good talent? I have no idea who to be pissed at, so I'm pissed at everyone.
But I do know this: The 2012 Columbus Crew is killing itself. We all know this is a business, and in order for a business to be successful people have to want to buy the product. A friend of mine made the point that the Front Office staff did a lot of work over the offseason to generate buzz and excitement for this season, and the team on the field is doing a lot - quickly - to undermine all of that great work. I can't think of a single sports fan who is going to be convinced to pay to watch a losing team just because the in-stadium experience has greatly improved since the last time they were there. The product has to be exciting.
It's to the point now where I almost don't want to bring new people to games. Why would I? I brought my girlfriend's brother to the New York game- his first ever - and afterward I felt like saying "I'm really sorry you had to see that." Thankfully, he's from Cleveland and knows what it's like to pay good money to watch teams lose.
My parents are coming to the game against Houston this weekend, and I'm terrified that the Crew is going to lay another egg, therefore solidifying my step-dad's attitude that soccer is played by guys who aren't big enough to play football, and is therefore not worth his time. He's a sports fan, this is their chance to hook him on soccer, but I have a hunch it won't happen.
But I digress.
The point here is that if Mark McCullers or someone from Hunt Sports Group doesn't do something fast, the window of opportunity to capitalize on the excitement from the winter will be gone. I don't know what Crew, Inc's drop-dead date on lighting fires under asses or making personnel changes is, but I sure hope it's rapidly approaching. As Junior Soprano once said, "Sometimes the wrong decision is better than no decision."
Something besides boring soccer needs to happen at Crew stadium this Saturday. Maybe, just maybe, Coach Bob will convince the guys to play Major League Soccer.