Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Columbus Crew have had a tumultuous off-season.
First Guillermo Barros Schelotto left after butting heads with Robert Warzycha. Right behind him went Frankie Hejduk and Gino Padula. Fast forward to 2013 and we’ve seen Sebastian Miranda, Julius James, Carlos Mendes, Rich Balchan, and now Milovan Mirosevic all depart Columbus. Dilly Duka is one properly filed trade away from being gone as well. It’s not just bodies the Crew are losing; these are all quality players.
But unlike most Crew fans right now, I am NOT ready to panic.
It is certainly disconcerting to see so few players on the roster as training camp opens. However, the new faces in camp ought to make Crew fans pick their heads up. Tyson Wahl is a defender with a wealth of MLS experience. He’s also flexible in terms of what position he can play. The same can be said for second round draft pick Drew Beckie. The Canadian defender might just be the most intriguing prospect coming out of this roller coaster off-season. He’s incredibly athletic and has big game experience having played for Canada’s U-23 that attempted to qualify for the Olympics. Ryan Finley is widely regarded as the best finisher coming out of college and it’s hard to argue given he scored 56 goals in 78 career matches at Duke and Notre Dame. I’ve written about Wil Trapp’s ball control and the only knock on Chad Barson is his height. It’s a lot of new pieces, but if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt it’s Brian Bliss.
Which brings me to my next point. A lot of people say it is time for Robert Warzycha to go. On the one hand, the team’s record has gotten progressively worse since the Polish international took over for Sigi Schmid after 2008′s title winning season. But he’s also managed to make the playoffs in each of those subsequent season with the exception of 2012 and had Houston been placed in the Western Conference where they belong, the Crew would’ve made the Wild Card round. This despite all of the departures I mentioned earlier. Remember how bleak things looked this time last year?
And STILL we came THIS CLOSE to making the playoffs!
Yes, it looks bad that Robert Warzycha is ready to cut ties with US U-23 star Dilly Duka. But Warzycha and Brian Bliss value team cohesion and chemistry more than anything else. They believe the team is far more important than the individual. Duka made it quite clear last season how unhappy he had become, so Warzycha and Bliss have decided to cut him loose. Both have all but accused Duka of being unprofessional. Given how professional those two men are, I am inclined to believe them and give them the benefit of the doubt. They are all business and they want all of their players to have the same attitude. Which is why we’ll never the Columbus Crew picking first overall in the MLS Superdraft. What they lack in overall talent, they make up for with work ethic. It’s not necessarily a culture of winning, but it is one of a blue collar attitude that is so often missing in sports these days.
You don’t have to look far to see just how fortunate we are to have men like Bliss and Warzycha in charge. Toronto FC still don’t seem to know which direction they’re headed. New York can’t figure out who’s going to coach this season. Chivas USA don’t have an identity despite always proclaiming they have an identity. The president at FC Dallas could possibly wind up in jail. Sporting KC lost their stadium sponsor. Things can ALWAYS be worse.
So take heart Crew fans! Bliss and Co. aren’t done rounding out the roster just yet. If Dominic Oduro winds up being on the other end of the Duka trade, it just means the Crew have one more proven MLS goal scorer. And if the rumors of Matias Sanchez arriving are true, Columbus will have stolen yet another Argentinian secret weapon. There’s still hope. It’s still early. We’ve only just finished Day 1 of training camp. Bliss, Warzycha, and Mark McCullers have a vision. A vision they are so confident about, McCullers went so far as to say he believes this team can win the Eastern Conference in 2013. Sounds like a pipe dream, but how often does the ever political McCullers make such bold statements?
Let’s wait and see…