Chris Birchall and Frankie Hejduk weren't in Washington D.C. today for the L.A. Galaxy's recognition ceremony at the White House. I was very surprised; I thought it was a given to bring back the key cogs for this type of event. Birchall even played in the Cup final. However, the Galaxy chose differently.
This reminded me of when the 2008 Crew came together for the last time in July 2009. Sigi Schmid, Stefani Miglioranzi, Brad Evans, Ezra Hendrickson, and Pat Noonan were all invited to come to the event at the White House even though they weren't part of the team any more. Teammates, current and past, came together to remember something great, a Massive Season. It was the final time that the 2008 team would get back together, even if it was for a photo op.
In isolation, it was a very nice gesture by the Crew front office, but they have shown several times over now that they understand the role the past plays in supporting a club like the Crew. The Crew made some very difficult cuts in 2010, letting go of some of the best and most recognized players in Crew history. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Gino Padula, Frankie Hejduk, and Duncan Oughton were gone in an instant.
It was a decision that riled long time fans, the team's longest serving players like Oughton and Hejduk were dropped. One of the best players in team history, Barros Schelotto, was cut when he said he wanted to come back. It was catastrophic public relations. The most recognizable faces of the team were all cut in the same day.
Team President and General Manager Mark McCullers said that there would always be a place for Crew greats to come back in non-playing roles. It was a nice sentiment, but one that did little to heal the wounds of a fan base that lost a deep connection to the team.
McCullers has now backed up that statement with action. Duncan Oughton was brought back with the humorous title of Assistant to the Technical Director, but soon turned up at practices, helping the coaching staff, providing color analysis for the team's television coverage, and being an ambassador for the team around town. It was the perfect fit for someone who found a home in central ohio and bleeds black and gold.
The recent addition of Frankie Hejduk continues to bring back Crew legends. He's officially the Brand Ambassador; the public face of the team in the community. It's a role he's born to do. His energetic outgoing personality is the perfect fit for the task. He's more than a marketer. He turns up everywhere, at practices talking with players, coaches, and even reporters, bouncing around the stands during games, and events in the community. He even gave an impromptu lesson to Danny O'Rourke on how to celebrate with the Pioneer Cup on Saturday.
Many fans I've talked to hope the team will add Barros Schelotto and Padula to the staff in some capacity, and perhaps it's a matter of time. It's only natural to want to bring legendary players back to the team. The last several years have shown the Crew are actively trying to keep those options open and respect the work of past teams. It certainly makes me smile when I look at the Crew at the White House in 2009, or cross paths with Duncan or Frankie. It's reminder of the tradition that the Columbus Crew have built since 1996.