It's early August and Mark McCullers is talking about playoffs in the Dispatch, but realistically it's time to give up. This isn't to mean the players and staff will just go through the motions. These are professionals after all. It does mean that this year is a lost one and the team's priorities should change accordingly.
Yes, there is a chance the Crew can climb back into the playoff picture, but that is extremely unlikely at this point. They must overcome the Chicago Fire, New England Revolution, and Houston Dynamo to finish in fifth place. That's 10 points to make up in total. All of those teams have a game in hand as well. It's not going to happen.
So if the Crew give up on bringing MLS Cup to Columbus in 2013, what does that look like? First, They should evaluate the team they do have with the question in mind "Will this person contribute to the next great Crew team?". Keep those players that fit that criteria. This is a chance to evaluate this team and see which pieces fit and which don't.
There are several players that have been in and out of the lineup. They can't nail down a starting spot. This is their last chance. Matias Sanchez, Tony Tchani, and Justin Meram have found time, but then saw the bench. They've been inconsistent or haven't lived up to their promise. This is that chance to show they can contribute to the next good Crew team.
The other part is looking to take a look at some of the prospects on this team. Once it's clear a player doesn't have a future with the team past 2013, it's time to look to the next candidate. Coach Robert Warzycha has already done this to some extent because of injuries, but this means getting good looks at young players like Ben Speas, Chad Barson, Ethan Finlay, Kevan George, Drew Beckie, Ryan Finley, and Wil Trapp. Not all will become MLS starters, but they should get a chance in live game action. They are all 23 or younger and will need time to develop. That time is now.
Second, don't sign anyone this transfer window unless it's an absolute lock to bring in top talent. There is plenty of work to do in evaluating the roster until the end of the season. Additionally, there is likely to be a coaching change by this winter and having allocation and salary budget space would be an attractive carrot to offer a coach. Team President Mark McCullers has said they won't be bringing in any international talent so this one is already checked off.
It may run counter to everyone's hopes during preseason, but it's clear now that this team won't bringing in a second cup. The benefits to looking to 2014 is getting a head start at fixing the problems of this year's edition of the team. They don't saddle themselves with possibly another contract while looking to prune the roster. There are holes on this team, but it can be competitive relatively soon. That takes looking past the 2013 season.