More on this mystery man in a moment.
First, let’s celebrate Saturday night’s thrilling victory! Emilio Renteria got his dome on a cross from The Other Higuain in stoppage time as Columbus defeated the only team hotter than themselves 2-1. Montreal had won five straight heading into Saturday night’s affair and were spot one ahead of Columbus in the Eastern Conference standings.
The visitors took an early lead, but Columbus bounced back as Chad Marshall headed home a goal of his own, also courtesy of Federico Higuain, to level the score. Then Emilio Renteria, who has had a sub-par, injury plagued season so far, created a little magic in stoppage time and showed us why he’s the best at celebrating goals with a spicy little number at the corner flag.
Full disclosure: I did not get a chance to view this game in its entirety. I only saw the highlight package from MLS. But that’s okay, because I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to talk about the true MVP of the Columbus Crew.
The man in that picture is Columbus Crew Technical Director Brian Bliss. The Technical Director is essentially the head of soccer operations for an MLS team. They deal almost entirely in personnel matters from the youth levels all the way to the senior team. It is the TD’s job to scout, draft, sign, etc all players for their respective teams. Bliss was hired for this position in January of 2008; the year Columbus won its first and only MLS Cup. Now Columbus had already signed club legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto a year earlier, but Bliss has drafted the likes of Dilly Duka, Justin Meram, Rich Balchan, Cole Grossman and signed Sebastian Miranda, Milovan Mirosevic, Jairo Arrieta, and Federico Higuain. He has also played a hand in signing Columbus’ three Homegrown Players: GK Matt Lampson, ST Aaron Horton, and MD Ben Speas. Columbus’ Academy teams are highly rated across the country.
Every move this club has made since the beginning of its championship season has been partially orchestrated by Brian Bliss. Not all of them have been stellar. Guys like Jeff Cunningham, Andres Mendoza, and Sergio Herrera have been MASSIVE flops recently. These signings were made after the team made the difficult decision to cut ties with aging veterans like Frankie Hejduk, Gino Padula, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto. These players were crucial to the 2008 MLS Cup run and they were all adored by Columbus supporters. But Bliss and General Manager Mark McCullers had to look to the future and they ultimately made the right call. Bliss has since redeemed himself with the signings of Arrieta and Higuain with the latter taking quite a while to sign a deal.
But Bliss and his office persevered and now Higuain is the catalyst behind a resurgent Crew side looking to extend its streak of consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance that started back in ’08. Not only that, but draft picks like Duka, Meram, and (when he’s healthy) Balchan and homegrown signings like Lampson (who made his first appearance with the first team recently) and Speas (out since the offseason with an abdominal injury) project a bright future for the team.
So give the man behind the scenes a round of applause Crew fans. We wouldn’t be the same team without him.