On Thursday, the Crew announced the retirement and then hiring of Frankie Hejduk as brand ambassador. In a season that was preceded by quite a few great off-the-field moves, the reunion of Frankie Hejduk with Columbus will likely be more popular than anything the Crew have done over the past two seasons.
Still, the bitter taste of early playoff exits coupled with recent stinging losses to Eastern Conference foes will quickly burn through any momentum the team generates in the boardroom. This week especially, I've heard multiple Crew fans suggest that the Black and Gold need to do "something" to fix what's going wrong between the lines.
In light of those requests, I humbly submit five things that I believe would help the Crew immediately get things pointed in the right direction in the standings:
1. Experiment with the defensive midfield role. The Crew coaches and front office seem to be in love with Kirk Urso, and he has filled in well enough that MLSsoccer.com had him in their list of the top 5 rookies this past week. Still, the main reason he seems to be getting a look is his ability to strike a nice ball on the set piece.That's all well and good, but it ignores this little fun fact - the Crew's supposed offensive catalyst, Milovan Mirosevic, has been covering up more mistakes than a tattoo artist the week after Spring Break.
If Urso can continue to shore up his defensive miscues and poor passing, he will be able to contribute to the Crew yet this season. But, in the meantime, can Tony Tchani or Cole Grossman get a chance, even if it's just for one game?
Hopefully, the answer is yes. But only time will tell.
2. Stick with a striker tandem. (For this next point, ignore what I just said about giving different guys a chance.)
I know this may come as a shock to some of you, but there was a time in Crew history where one or two guys were penciled in every week at the top of the formation, and were expected to score goals even when they weren't playing their best.
Now, apparently, the fervent masses have spoken, and that's all been thrown out the window. The Crew faithful cannot abide a striker that goes four games without a goal, lest he be subject to a one-game penalty with the reserve team, if Robert Warzycha's benching of Emilio Renteria is any indication.
I'll admit, the inability to finish point blank chances, especially in that awful New York game, are maddening. But strikers go on runs. If there is any place that I would like to see some patience on the field, it's in that one area of the field where guys need to see more of the ball to be successful. The service from the midfield has been lacking, but instead of addressing that problem, the coaching staff decided to bench one of the guys who can actually create something on his own.
Renteria needs time to develop a partnership with his new colleague, Olman Vargas. Once they get a feel for each other, I believe they can be potent. As long as they aren't constantly looking over their shoulder.
3. Develop an identity. In the opener against Colorado, the Crew couldn't maintain possession. In the win over Montreal, they took advantage of a 10-man team in a very open, back-and-forth match. Against TFC, they bunkered and countered to near perfection. Against New York, they scuffed clearances early, and easy chances late. In Philadelphia, they were listless against a team that was lacking any real creativity in the final third (if anything the Crew were MORE boring than the Union. Yikes.)
That's five games, and not once have I seen the same performance twice.
Houston has an identity - they're going to beat the crap out of you for 90 minutes, and if you aren't vomiting by the end of it, you might be able to find a goal. Kansas City feel they are the most technically proficient team from endline to endline in MLS (though RSL, for one, could stake claim to that title as well). Los Angeles? They're going to show you how much the team's salary is, and hope you pass out. (I kid...)
The Crew lacks identity because they lack consistency. The bigger problem (and perhaps the cause of that condition) is their inability to execute whatever game plan Robert Warzycha has drawn up on a given day. And when those game plans seemingly change with little-to-no warning, it makes me wonder if the problem is above the players.
4. Stop relying on set pieces. This isn't 2008. Guillermo Barros Schelotto isn't walking through that door. The Crew have very creative and skilled players in Vargas, Renteria, and Mirosevic ( I'll omit Dilly Duka and Ethan Finley for now due to injury and limited experience, but they should also qualify for this list eventually). All of these guys have shown the ability to create on the fly. Finishing remains an issue, but the chances are there.
Point is, this team can play attacking, creative soccer, and they don't need to look for the referee every time they get into the attacking third. If they constantly are told to try to draw the foul and set up free kicks, the spark of ingenuity, I'm afraid, will get dropped in the mud. Play freely, and see what happens.
5. Get healthy. Sadly, the most obvious item on this list that would help the Crew is also the one they have the least control over. The sooner guys like Duka, Danny O'Rourke, Carlos Mendes, and Rich Balchan can get healthy, the better off the Crew will be.
And finally, while we're making a wish list, if someone can get kill Eddie Gaven's zombie, who has been playing terribly, and get the real Gaven back to Columbus, that would be great too.