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+Five Crew Mistakes of 2013

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A look at the mistakes that have shaped this 2013 Columbus Crew season.

Jul 16, 2013; Hartford, CT, USA
Jul 16, 2013; Hartford, CT, USA
David Butler II, USA Today Sports

1. BENCHING ARRIETA

After spending some time away playing with his national team early in the season, Jairo Arrieta returned to Obetz training facility only to see that he had been relegated to the bench. At some point during the intervening few games head coach Robert Warzycha had determined that the team would be better off with league journeyman Dominic Oduro in the lone attacking role.

“If I’m Polish and I’m going to play for my national team, and we have a German guy who is going to play for the national team, too, those are two completely different national teams. There’s a team that won the World Cup, and that player is probably much better than I am. That’s why he needs to be in the lineup.”

“I think because Jairo went to the national team doesn’t have anything to do with it. I think Dominic played well, and he deserved to start.”

A classic non sequitur from the Crew Mister. From there the Crew would go on and draw their next two against a beatable Philadelphia Union and Montreal Impact then lose to Chicago in a dreadfully played match.

Jairo finally reappeared in the starting lineup on April 27th when the Crew dismantled a bad DC United team - but by then the damage was done.

Arrieta was brought in less than a year previous and quickly proved that he was a top scorer in the league by any measure. He was on the verge of taking the league by storm. On top of that, Arrieta seemed to have the trust of team captain and best player Federico Higuian.

Warzycha crippled the Crew by not starting him early in the year and, in essence, wasted $216k in salary budget. For a team in a market like the Crew? Unforgivable.

2. GAVEN AND GLAUBER INJURIES

This is an important one that goes back to decisions made in previous seasons. The Crew had lost to the Richmond Kickers in 2011 and the Dayton Dutch Lions in 2012 in the 3rd Round of the US Open Cup. Both of them were at Crew Stadium.

For those unfamiliar with the tournament, the 3rd round is basically the 1st round US based MLS teams enter the competition. Losing the previous two years forced the Columbus Crew to play a strong lineup, filled with starters, in 2013.

2013 saw the Crew lined up against the Dayton Dutch Lions once again. Another loss at home just wasn’t an option. So, players like Eddie Gaven and even Federico Higuain found themselves playing.

With the Crew up late, Gaven fell awkwardly to the ground and wound up tearing his knee up and knocking him out for a year. In the next round the Crew were still pressing for a win in the tournament (named after their owner) against the Chicago Fire. Again, a strong lineup was listed. This time it was new $215k signing Glauber that went down with a season ending knee injury.

Were the Crew to take this tournament more seriously the previous two years they wouldn’t have put themselves in a place where starters were required to give their all to save face.

The responsibility and ownness also falls on the Crew Front Office for practically dismissing this historic tournament. Hardly one thousand people come out to watch these games. Other markets see thousands more turn up. Hell, more showed up to the Dayton v Crew reserve game in Dayton then the Open Cup match at Crew Stadium.

Injuries happen. But Gaven and Glauber’s injuries were direct result of a franchise desperately trying to erase three losses in four years to third division teams.

In manufacturing you do everything you can to avoid these types of situations. Some call it poka-yoke. Reducing risk. Essential to running a sustainable and successful enterprise.  It’s the philosophy that turns off the microwave when you punch open the door or why the diesel gas pump nozzle doesn’t fit your unleaded tank hole on your car.

3. THE COACH’S SON

Nepotism is a term that carries debate and mostly negative connotations back to the beginning of humankind. Why on earth open yourself up and join in this near biblical argument? It’s always better to avoid it altogether.

If Konrad Warzycha is good enough to play professional soccer then let him play elsewhere. Bringing him to town only created problems within the belly of a team that already has too many to list, rightly or wrongly.

Look at possibly the best US player in the past 10 years in Michael Bradley. Even he has to battle through the sigma of nepotism to this day for playing under his dad on the national team and he plays for Roma.

Lost but not forgotten is Justin Meram making a surprise announcement to his teammates during the preseason in Bradenton, Florida on Sunday January 27th: "Guys, this is Konrad Warzycha. He's from Columbus and he went to Ohio State. He's here to train with us."

Konrad has only played a modest 205 minutes in league play this year but has also logged a lot of reserve team minutes as well. All of them over other players that more than likely carry at least a little resentment. Justin Meram included.

The move to bring him in was completely unnecessary. If he is good enough to make it on the MLS level then let another team sign him. Poka-yoke.

4. PHILLY, AWAY on JUNE 5TH

After trying to regain hold in the Eastern Conference playoff race the Crew traveled out to PPL Park 14 games into the season with decent odds.

Going back to watch the game on MLS is difficult. Three goals scored in basically five naked minutes for Columbus. On the third you can hear and feel the wave of inevitability from long time announcer JP Dellacamera as Glauber and Tyson Wahl make a mess of a routine play in the midfield that Jack McInerney breaks up nonchalantly...

“...Almost gave it away to McInerney, Glauber gave it away too... here is Le Toux (voice raises in excitement), and the Union look for another one. Le Toux cuts in the box (voice elevates again), DRIVES IT! CASEY GOAL! THREE. NOTHING. UNION!”

I don’t know what it is about the Crew traveling to Philly and Chicago, it just never seems to turn out well. This particular match was the proverbial first nail in the playoff coffin. A large percentage of the season ended here and it could have been avoided.

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5. GRADING SEASON TICKET HOLDERS

There is no situation where applying a score to your customers is the right thing to do.

The Columbus Crew have basically missed the “Dare to be Massive 10k” season ticket holder initiative target set forth by the league a couple years ago - and yet someone in the front office felt the need to apply a rating to season ticket holders based on event participation.

Here is the opening text that was sent out to season ticket holders:

“We value your commitment as a Crew season ticket holder and want to ensure we are helping you maximize your season ticket holder experience. To date, your membership score is xx.x (out of a possible 100 points) of your membership.”

There was a minor shit-storm that arose from this mis-calculated debacle but for the most part it was contained within the borders of Ohio. One has to wonder though... does this make it on to the list of worst things to do to your season ticket holders in recent sports history?

With no lucrative national TV deal Major League Soccer depends on gate. The number of people that show up to games. The league likes to parade attendance around like the prettiest girl in a teenage beauty pageant.

So, for a franchise like the Crew, who languish in the bottom 5-6 in the league in attendance to do something like this is completely unforgivable. Laughably so.

OTHERS. CONSIDERED

6. THE MID-SEASON EXHIBITION GAME: Remember this? There were some rumors about a Crew match to be held in some nearby midwestern metropolis. Cincinnati, Indianapolis? Many figured Cleveland. It was a big deal in the offseason. Nothing happened.

7. THE OPTIMISM QUOTE: “The road to MLS Cup could come through Columbus. The MLS Cup could be in Columbus. I believe we're going to have that caliber of team. I really do." - Crew President and General Manager Mark McCullers before the 2013 season started up. Not sure anyone bought this. Certainly no one outside of the most fervent franchise supporters. It was an embarrassingly dishonest statement.

8. REBRANDING SURVEY: This seems so long ago (technically last year) but many filled out the little form the Crew put together in a pathetic market measure / gauge event. Not sure how much effort was put into this survey but do think this sort of hamfisted misunderstanding of the market/fanbase opened the door to a ‘fan grade’. This is why critical writing is important, children.

9. NO ADJUSTMENTS: It is widely known that the Crew do not make adjustments in lineup or formation based on upcoming opponent. For this reason the Columbus Crew haven’t won two games in a row since the middle of last year. They are the owners of the longest such streak in Major League Soccer.

10. No J. WILLIAMS RAISE: It is no secret that MLS controls contracts but it should bother even the most fringe Columbus Crew fan that Josh Williams earns a little over league minimum. Last year Josh held the team together. This year he came off the chalk, guns blazing and punched home three goals in the early going. The other day MLS Players Union posted updated salaries and... noted. Mr. Josh Williams has no pay increase. Again. Most in the know believe his contract is up soonish. He might not have the ‘homegrown’ pedigree that PR folks drool over but, in not having that (and working himself into MLS the hard way), doesn’t he does embody just about everything the Crew are about? Pay him or sell him.