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Nov 072013

And there you have it folks: Gregg Berhalter has been chosen to lead Columbus to the promised land!

Before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way. Some people are excited and some are not excited. Some people think this is a great hire while others think it is not. Ultimately, hindsight will prove some people right and some people wrong. In a situation like this, fans can only react to what they know. None of us know that three years from now the Crew front office is stacked with trophies and none of us know that three years from now Berhalter is out of the job after a disastrous tenure.

I completely understand some Crew fans wanting everyone to be upbeat and positive, but I can also understand some fans being distraught that other candidates, like Guillermo Barros Schelotto, were not selected. Schelotto was more than qualified for the job given his coaching record at Lanus in Argentina. I’m more upset a guy like Tab Ramos wasn’t chosen. Whatever. If some fans want to be upset, then let them. It doesn’t somehow make them less “loyal” fans just because they aren’t thrilled with the hire. Again, time will tell.

That being said, I’m one of those people who isn’t wild about the hire. I’ve softened my stance a bit now that I’ve had a day or two to reflect and let me emotions calm down, but I still have my reservations. There’s a lot to consider, so I’m going to make a “pros and cons” list, just like I did when Brian Bliss was named interim head coach and was being considered for the full time job. So let’s get to it…

Con: His record at Hammarby (Swedish second division)

Gregg Berhalter went 18-11-16 in 18 months with Swedish second division side Hammarby, who are based in the capital city of Stockholm. But more concerning was the fact that he was let go for a lack for what the team’s owner considered a lack of offense. According to data guru Larry Johnson over at Massive Report, Hammarby’s Goals For (GF) per game was 0.87 under Berhalter and is 1.41 since he left the team in June. Their Goals Against (GA) was 0.96 per game under Berhalter and 1.18 since he left.

For those of us who didn’t enjoy the “Goals Will Come” era, those numbers are hardly reassuring.

Pro: He has experience outside MLS

I was really hoping the team would look outside recycled MLS regulars like Frank Yallop and Jesse Marsch and pick someone with coaching experience outside MLS. Obviously Guillermo met that, but so did Tab Ramos as he has been coaching the US U-20 team over the last couple years.

Not only does Berhalter have coaching experience outside of MLS, but he also spent the majority of his playing career overseas as well. He has been exposed to a number of different teams and philosophies. Since he left Hammarby, he has been touring Europe learning even more about different teams’ systems and philosophies. He was unable to attend the teleconference for the announcement of his hiring because he was in Barcelona getting a tour of their facilities. More on this later.

Con: He has never been a head coach in MLS

This was always going to be a concern for anyone who wanted to see Guillermo or any other outside hires. Berhalter needs to get up to speed on the roster rules quickly and he needs to make sure his new Director of Soccer Operations is well versed in said rules as well. He’s got very little time to do so, so his  first hire will be crucial.

Pro: Data-driven

A lot is being made of Berhalter’s desire to use data and analytics to help shape the team going forward. If he’s committed to it, he’ll be the first to do so in MLS. It is encouraging to see someone who recognizes future trends and wants to study them in depth. I’m not a huge believer in analyics and crunching numbers when it comes to the sport of soccer, but it is still refreshing to see someone take such an unconventional approach to managing a team.

Con: He likes the current crop of players

Berhalter has apparently been watching over a dozen Crew games from this season since he formally interviewed in September and he claims there is a lot of promise on the current roster. I tend to disagree. Outside of guys like Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, and Bernardo Anor I don’t see a ton of potential in this team. Jairo Arrieta took a huge step back and Dominic Oduro was playing for a new deal this season and could easily take next season off if the team decides to pay him. The young, recent draft picks like Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay, Ryan Finley, and Aaron Schoenfeld simply aren’t that talented. Homegrown guys like Ben Speas and Chad Barson show some promise going forward, but I was really hoping the new coach would say more about evaluating the roster rather than committing to the current group. I think now is the time to blow up the roster and start making serious changes, especially with two new teams joining the league in 2015.

Pro: He has full control

I get the feeling that, regardless of who was hired, Mark McCullers was always destined to quit the soccer side of things altogether after this season, but it’s still good that Berhalter will have full control of soccer operations. I do like that he has been wandering through Europe getting new ideas about not just coaching the first team, but shaping the entire organization down to the Academy and youth levels. This needed to happen regardless of who was chosen.

The Verdict

In the end, I’ve talked myself off the ledge a bit with regards to Gregg Berhalter being in charge of the Columbus Crew going forward. His record (and more importantly his GF/GA numbers) still terrifies me. To have a decent record overall, take the team from 12th to 4th, and STILL get fired mid-season because you weren’t scoring enough is a MASSIVE red flag. Again, we can only off of what we know and based on what we know about his time in Sweden I fear we are headed towards 2-3 more years of the “Goals Will Come” era.

That being said, I’m trying to be optimistic and get excited and I do find it extremely encouraging that he has spent his time off studying other teams around Europe. I’m also intrigued by his stated desire to approach the game from an analytical perspective. We are constantly being bombarded with quotes about how he has a plan and knows exactly what he wants to do going forward. But we should expect that of anyone who comes in to be Head Coach and Sporting Director.

(Side note: I can’t help but feel like Anthony Precourt has become a bit too enamored with Sporting Kansas City. There seem to be a lot of similarities between Berhalter and Peter Vermes with regards to their titles, responsibilities, style as players and general desired style of play as coaches.)

And so we venture forth into a new era in Columbus and hopefully good times and new trophies await us. I’ll continue to be wary of Berhalter’s previous coaching record, but I also look forward to seeing what he can do with a fresh start.

Here’s to a MASSIVE off-season!

Oct 282013

I’m not usually a fan of alliteration, but that’s a lot of Cs up top.

Apologies (not really) if you were hoping for a recap of Sunday’s regular season finale. I got absolutely nothing out of it.

So let’s talk about more exciting things!

We saw some more news about the head coach search trickle through over the weekend via several outlets including the ever vigilant Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch. Anthony Precourt had some things to say, most of which revolved around a desire to pursue Bob Bradley. He also spoke about finding the “right man” for the job which includes someone who will (obviously) represent the team well in the community. That part in particular struck me, but more on that later. Precourt also mentioned that they would spend the money to buyout the right coach. Again, more on this in a moment.

Let’s break down the names that are out there at this time. I’ve gone over some of these in the past, but it’s worth revisiting them now that we have some new updates. For a point of reference, here’s the two articles I’m referencing…

MLS Soccer:

Soccer America:

Gregg Berhalter

Resume: Former US International who was just dismissed by Swedish club Hammarby in July.

Berhalter was a great player for the US and LA Galaxy later on in his career, but getting dismissed by Hammarby doesn’t do much for me. Next!

Jesse Marsch

Resume: MLS veteran who coached Montreal Impact during their inaugural season and was fired to make room for Marco Schallibaum. He was also reportedly a finalist for the Chicago Fire job back in 2010.

Marsch wasn’t exactly awful in his one year at Montreal. There were signs of promise at the end of the season, but not enough to convince Joey Saputo to keep Marsch. There’s a lot  of talk that Marsch would be a good fit for Columbus, but he doesn’t exactly get me revved up for the future; not like some of the other candidates I’m about to go over.

Frank Yallop

Resume: 2 MLS Coach of the Year awards (2001, 2012), 2 MLS Cup titles as a coach (2001, 2003), 8-9-3 as head coach of Canada from 2004-06

You won’t find a coach on this list with more MLS pedigree, that’s for sure. That might seem like an impressive resume, but here’s how his record breaks down chronologically


San Jose 2001-04: 64-45-32

Los Angeles 2006-07: 24-25-13

San Jose 2007-2013: 62-62-51

Notice how his record tails off as the rest of the league grows up and learns how to play. Yallop is the classic example of a bad coach being recycled around the same league over and over. Not only that, but Chris Wondolowski’s 2012 season is the only time a Frank Yallop team has ever been recognized for its offense. His goal differential in LA was +6 (89 scored, 83 allowed) and during his second stint with San Jose, which lasted SIX years, was a whopping +1 (233 scored, 232 allowed).

He may have pedigree (never mind that it came in the Dark Ages of MLS), but his teams will put you to sleep. Next!

Bob Bradley

Resume: 1 MLS Cup title as a coach (1998), 2 US Open Cup titles as a coach (1998, 2000), took over the US Men’s National Team in December of 2006 and lost to Ghana in the quarterfinals at the 2010 World Cup

This is the name that has everyone talking. Bradley is still the head coach of Egypt but he’s unlikely to return barring a miraculous comeback in the second leg of their World Cup qualifying playoff with (who else) Ghana.

Look, I get it: Everyone loves the man. His time at Egypt has revealed a lot about his character. But that doesn’t guarantee he’ll make a great coach for the Columbus Crew. Yes, he had success with the Chicago Fire in their first couple seasons, but that was no ordinary expansion team in 1998. That was a stacked team that won with Bob Bradley, not because of him. And while we’re on the subject, we last saw Bradley in MLS back in 2006; two years before the Crew won the double. That’s an eternity in this league. And just as with Yallop, Bradley’s teams don’t exactly keep you glued to your TV screen. Next!

Brad Friedel

Resume: Former Crew and USMNT goalkeeper who’s still currently employed by Tottenham Hotspur

I’ve talked about Friedel before. I’m not a huge fan of players jumping right into a head coaching upon retirement. Yes, he’s has his coaching license from UEFA instead of US Soccer and he does own his own academy in Cleveland, but he’s too much of a gamble with no actual coaching experience.

Tab Ramos

Resume: MLS and USMNT veteran who coached the US U-20 at the World Cup this past summer

Now THIS caught my attention. This came out of nowhere, but if it’s true that he has interview it has the potential to be a major coup. Ramos’s US U-20 may have crashed out of the group stage at the World Cup, but they drew the Group of Death with Spain, France, and Ghana. A lot of coaches would see that group and play with 11 men behind the ball hoping to poach one off the counter (a la Mr. Bradley).

Not Tab Ramos.

He played an aggressive 4-3-3 and had his team go toe-to-toe with each of these international giants. His eye for young talent would be huge for the Crew going forward. Wil Trapp started all three of those World Cup games, so Ramos is familiar with his ability. If Anthony Precourt won’t splash the cash for designated players, then the next best thing is to get real young, real quick. Ramos is the perfect candidate for just such a strategy.

There’s only one candidate I like better than Ramos at this point and I’m guessing you already know who it is…

Guillermo Barros Schelotto

Resume: Former MLS Regular Season and MLS Cup MVP, all-around Columbus Crew legend

The more I read what Precourt said about what he’s looking for in a coach, the more I think that Schelotto is the only man for this job going forward. Yes, I’m wary of former players quickly turned coach, but Argentina’s first division is one massive pressure cooker that regularly spits out world class talent. In his first ever coaching gig, Schelotto has taken Lanus as high as fourth place. Precourt says he wants a guy who will represent the team well off the field and Schelotto has been quite clear about his love for the city of Columbus and his desire to return. Columbus is coming off one of its best seasons ever in terms of attendance. Imagine how much closer we’ll get to Goal 10K if Precourt comes out right before Thanksgiving and announces that the most successful player in the team’s history is taking over as head coach!

So it really boils down to what Precourt values the most. Ramos may be able to build a better team, but GBS can coach up the current team and provide an emotional lift to the entire fan base like no other candidate out there.

As long as it’s one of those two, I’ll be thrilled going into this monumental off-season.


Oct 192013

This is what happens when your favorite team changes ownership and fires its coach mid-season: You hang on every bit of substantiated rumor out there.

Columbus Crew fans had a mini panic attack on Friday afternoon when Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch reported that Crew legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto had interviewed with both the Crew and new expansion team New York City FC.

It’s that second part that I want to focus on. None of us can really be shocked Schelotto interviewed with Columbus, given his status among the team’s history. I’m not so sure the Hunts would’ve brought him in this early (if at all) but new owner Anthony Precourt hasn’t wasted any time. What shocks me is the thought of Schelotto becoming the next head coach of the second New York team that MLS has desired for so long and has bent its own rules (specifcially those about needing a soccer specific stadium to join MLS) to accommodate them. The powder blue New Yorkers will make Seattle look like a red headed stepchild in the eyes of MLS HQ. Would Schelotto really be put in charge of such a team from the start?

I’m not so sure.

To me this sounds like Schelotto trying to get some leverage and put pressure on the front office in Columbus. And I can’t fault him for it either. For all we know, Precourt isn’t willing to shell out big bucks for a head coach. Schelotto deserves a good deal though. He’s had enormous success with Lanus in Argentina in a very short amount of time and it wouldn’t shock me if he started attracting interest from smaller sides around Europe. We all loved Schelotto for his vision on the playing field and that vision was the result  of his desire to not only practice the game, but study it as well. He is that rare great player who knows the game so well that he can go on to become an equally great coach.

The news that Schelotto was in New York does present a bit of a wrinkle in this search for a head coach in Columbus. If New York (and potentially more MLS sides) are legitimately interested in him, then Anthony Precourt suddenly finds himself in a significant predicament. Many of us would love to have Schelotto in charge of the Crew, but we would also understand if he wound up staying in his native Argentina. But to watch the Crew turn him down and then see him wind up in New York, Dallas, or maybe even Chicago would churn all of our stomachs inside out and we’d be inclined to point our wrath at Precourt. After all, how could the Crew willingly low ball a team legend and watch him sign up with a direct competitor? There would be legitimate mutiny among not just the hardcore supporters, but casual fans who have stayed away since 2008-09 as well.

It’s going to be a long off-season, but also a very important one, so be prepared to hang on every bit of news like this going forward.

Oct 132013

Although the Columbus Crew are still mathematically capable of making the playoffs, I’m going to assume they aren’t getting in for the sake of this discussion. Even if they do manage to sneak, I don’t see making the playoffs as enough of an accomplishment to award the head coaching job to Brian Bliss.

I’m still not entirely sold on Bliss and so I’m going to do the rational thing and create a “pros” and “cons” list to determine if he should in fact take over after the 2013 season concludes.

Pro: He Pushes The Right Buttons

There can be no denying how much more motivated this team has looked ever since Bliss took over for Robert Warzycha. By all accounts the players are more loose in training and that in turn has produced a much more confident group come game day. The question is: how much of this is attributed to Bliss and how much is attributed to the departure of Warzycha? Would any other coach have been able to produce the same results? It’s “chicken vs. egg” question, but it’s also worth considering when discussing the possibility of Bliss taking over permanently.

Con: Conservative Tactics

Brian Bliss is getting results on the field, but he has done so with very little tactical imagination. He has trotted out a very traditional 4-4-1-1 with Federico Higuain tucked in behind lone striker Jairo Arrieta and natural forward Dominic Oduro out wide on the right. Robert Warzycha trotted out this same lineup on several occasions and I was really hoping we’d see something new from Bliss. Oduro isn’t a midfielder and as a result Chad Barson/Josh Williams end up on an island when it comes to defending the flanks. Ultimately I’d like to see someone with less conservative tactics take over this offseason.

Pro: He Helped Build The Current Roster

Since Brian Bliss was a technical director before taking over, we know what he is capable of in terms of scouting and discovering talent. You can’t say that about half of the teams in MLS whose coaches spend more time deferring such duties to a technical director or GM. Bliss is the man who found and helped sign Federico Higuain. He also gave us the aforementioned Arrieta and Oduro as well as 20 year old Wil Trapp, who came up through the academy.

Con: He Helped Build The Current Roster

For every Higuain on Bliss’s resume there’s a Glauber and a Matias Sanchez. We spent much of this season complaining about how, in the end, most of the players on this roster simply aren’t good enough. Well, Bliss is responsible for that as well. He brought in guys like Tony Tchani, Tyson Wahl, Aaron Schoenfeld, etc. One has to wonder if he is capable of finding 20-25 good players and not just half a dozen.

Pro: He’s Cheap

Bliss was once an interim head coach for Kansas City, but other than that he has spent much of his post-playing career as a technical director. He won’t command very much in terms of salary, even if the Crew do manage to sneak into the playoffs. I’d like to see the organization look outside of former MLS coaches and players, but that will likely cost more in salary than whatever Bliss negotiates.

Con: His Attire Is Cheap

I love the guy, but he looks like he bought his game day attire off the sales rack at Kohls. I’m sure he wasn’t making a ton as technical director, but surely it was enough to afford some nice suits.


At the end of the day, I think there is someone else out there who can take this team to new heights under the new ownership group. This may be the biggest offseason in the team’s history. There is an opportunity to conduct a thorough search for a new head coach and even a new GM/President. If Anthony Precourt and Co. get this offseason right, there’s no reason this team can’t compete for the Supporters Shield and a CONCACAF Champions League spot right away next season. I would love to see an international candidate take over. Bliss can remain on staff as a technical director and explain the roster construction rules to whoever takes over for him. Guillermo Barros Schelotto has already been asked about it and shrugged off speculation saying he’s happy in Argentina and would like to fulfill his current deal which is set to expire in June of 2014.

Bliss has done a great job in the interim role, but at the end of the day I don’t think he’s tactically proficient enough to be in charge of the team going forward. To be perfectly honest, the only reason I’d want to keep him around as technical director is if an MLS outsider comes in to take over. He’s had too many misses when building this roster over the last five years. I want to see exciting, unconventional hires across the board this offseason. I’d like to see this roster blown up now, right after the team has been sold to new ownership.

This is truly the dawning of a new era in Columbus and that means it’s time to take bold risks. It’s time to go off the beaten path. It’s time for a new direction.

Oct 012013

I think this post warrants a disclaimer: I’m crazy.

I’m crazy in that I have a dream of promotion and relegation coming to the United States. I believe wholeheartedly that every town in the United States able to field a soccer team deserves the opportunity to play their way into the big time. A fundamental part of such a vision includes 100% independence for all of those teams.

Recently Tim Holt, the president of the United Soccer League-Pro, reiterated his desire for his league to form an affiliate relationship with MLS. This season has seen MLS teams like Philadelphia and Kansas City become affiliated with USL Pro sides Orlando and Harrisburg respectively. As part of such an affiliation the MLS teams sent their bench warmers down to these USL Pro teams for playing time. In other words, Orlando and Harrisburg became the AA-affiliates of their respective MLS overlords a la professional baseball in this country.

I hate this. A lot.

I’ve long thought Orlando was worthy of joining MLS, although the hoops the league is making them jump through makes me rethink such a vision. They’d be better off following the path of Indy Eleven and the New York Cosmos: they should join the less restrictive North American Soccer League. But I digress. My point is that setting professional soccer in the US up in the mold of professional baseball is the wrong way to go.

Columbus (and most of the other current MLS sides) saw fit to simply field a reserve team and play a home and home with Dayton Dutch Lions rather than use a current USL Pro side as a storage closet. Now Holt has said he thinks it would be a good idea for MLS teams to go ahead and simply field a “B team” that competes within the USL Pro. I’m fine with that as well. At least all teams involved can maintain their own independence, even if promotion into the NASL and MLS isn’t available for them.

This doesn’t just boil down to my personal ideology though. There’s a developmental benefit to Columbus fielding a “B team” instead of having Dayton (or even Pittsburgh) be their minor league bitch. Kansas City saw their young draft pick Dom Dwyer dominate while with Orlando, but he has yet to take off since being recalled from there. The quality of play across the board in USL Pro isn’t quite up to par with that of MLS (though Larry Johnson makes a compelling case otherwise over at Massive Report) and playing time against such competition isn’t necessarily a good thing for the player’s development. Fielding a “B team” also means the Crew can impose their preferred philosophy/playing style on their younger players without interruption. A minor league affiliate may not necessarily want to play the same way the Crew do and thus the player’s development is hindered even further.

If the Crew are going to completely remake themselves into a world class organization, there has to be one plan in place from top to bottom. That can’t happen if players are consistently being shipped back and forth between Dayton and/or Pittsburgh. Let the younger/reserve players continue to play with one another as the do now and develop some chemistry. Moving them down to a random team simply for the sake of giving them playing time is useless.

Unfortunately it seems likely such affiliate partnerships will eventually take hold and we’ll see more and more MLS teams shipping their fringe players off to strange teams in strange places and harm said players’ development severely. I hope Anthony Precourt and his new front office staff think long and hard about this issue whenever it comes up during the off-season. He’s made a great first impression so far and maintaining the team’s independence (while allowing USL Pro teams to do the same) would earn him a lot of respect in my eyes as a loyal Crew supporter.


Sep 242013

I promise, no matter what I write in this post, I am NOT renouncing my Crew fandom.

In fact, I bought my first jersey since high school, as well as a nifty Homage shirt and paid for 2-day shipping in order to receive both before I see Columbus live and in person for just the second time all season this weekend.

In an effort to deflect criticism, I’m going to point the finger of blame at MLS. I’m thrilled the Crew are battling for their playoff lives in Dallas this weekend. I haven’t been this excited for a match in quite some time. But the fact that the Crew are still in the thick of things with the fourth worst record in the league tells you all you need to know about what an “accomplishment” making the playoffs has become. Brian Bliss could potentially wind up getting the head coaching job on a full time basis if he keeps this run going a bit longer. “Playoffs” is a buzzword though and there’s nothing us Americans love more than a good buzzword.

This is not to say that Bliss doesn’t deserve the job. By all accounts team morale has significantly improved since Robert Warzycha was fired and the results on the field speak for themselves. But these can’t be the kinds of factors that the front office looks at when the off-season rolls around. This is arguably the biggest off-season for the team since the team won its first and only MLS Cup in 2008. There will be many big decisions made, including who should lead this team. Just because the players are happier and the team is chasing a playoff spot, does not mean Bliss is the best candidate out there for this team.

Actually, he may be the best for coach for THIS team, but whether or not THIS team is still around come December remains to be seen. This roster could be completely overhauled depending on the moves the front office makes. New players may be brought in who don’t respond as well to Bliss and thus there may be a need for a new coach. A new coach will likely (or at least SHOULD) be selected before roster moves are made. This wild playoff run and the sudden momentum it has brought cannot be factored in to these critical moves that will be made during the off-season.

It’s not just Columbus in this situation either. Poor Chicago (sorry, I’m not one for “heated rivalries” at this point in my life”) has an inept, disinterested coach and owner, but they’re still in the playoff hunt and should they qualify it may mean another year of Frank Klopas for them. Bob Kraft will be able to justify his “absentee ownership” if they manage to claim a playoff spot. Philadelphia fans will have to put up with more penny pinching if they can sneak into that last spot.

The playoffs are used as a means of measuring success for individual organizations, but in reality they simply highlight just how mediocre most of those organizations really are. Columbus is not exempt from this. Even if they sneak in and make a run to the MLS Cup final, I’d still rather see Bliss return to his technical director role and bring in Guillermo Barros Schelotto as head coach. I’d rather see Mark McCullers depart and new executive (preferably not Dave Greeley) put in charge of the front office going forward.

Still, it is fun to see the Crew playing for SOMETHING after the ups and downs of this season. A month or so ago I thought they’d have nothing to play for; that they were stuck in mediocrity. They still are, but a playoff run like this masks that mediocrity very well. Such runs are great for us fans in the short term, but they cannot be used to influence the decisions that new owner Anthony Precourt will make this winter.


Columbus Crew Coaching Candidates

 Posted by on September 3, 2013 at 9:02 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Sep 032013

Hows that for alliteration?!

So the Crew have done what we all saw coming and cut Robert Warzycha loose. While it’s a great move for the organization, it’s not one I’m inclined to celebrate. I defended Warzycha much longer than most and only turned on him when he failed to get off to a better start this season. I thought he was the right man for the job due to the way he conducted himself and the way he ran his practices. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t turned out to be a very good coach. I feel bad for him. He has given so much to this team in its 18 years existence and just like that he’s no longer involved.

But there’s little time to dwell on that now because, while Brian Bliss has been outstanding as technical director, he is no head coach and the front office will definitely be exploring a variety of candidates. The list below is a list that I personally would like to see, regardless of how likely/unlikely he may be for the Crew.

You’ll notice a common trend among them: they aren’t former MLS coaches.

I don’t believe Jesse Marsch or Frank Yallop are what the Crew need. No former MLS coach is. This team has a new owner and is heading into a new era. A recycled MLS veteran is not the way to go. Yes, MLS transaction rules are more complex calculus, but that’s exactly why I’m making this list with the premise that Brian Bliss remains technical director. He is a great scout and he knows the rule book. Let him continue as a right hand man who molds the roster in the shape that the new head coach desires. If the candidate in question doesn’t get MLS rules, then Bliss steps in. It’s that simple.

So without further ado here’s my personal wishlist sorted by the likelihood the Crew signs them…

Marcelo Bielsa

The Argentine has made a name for himself coaching Argentina and Chile’s national teams, but he just saw his contract with Athletic Bilbao expire this summer and he needs a new place to go. His teams are incredibly fun to watch due to his unorthodox tactics and even with the current Crew roster he could produce a team that Columbus fans would turn out in droves to see on a regular basis. He’s used to coaching at an elite level and it’s highly unlikely he’d lower his standards to coach an MLS team, but I can still dream.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 10%

“Lucky” Guus Hiddink

Much like Bielsa, the Dutch mastermind has made a name for himself overhauling national teams. He took South Korea deep into the knockout round at the 2002 World Cup and led Australia to the Round of 16 in the 2006 edition. He’s had some success at the club level too though. He took PSV Eindhoven deep into the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League in 2004-05 and won the Dutch Eredivisie three times in four years. Just like Bielsa though, Hiddink is unlucky to consider MLS and they are just as unlikely to consider him.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 10%

Znedek Zeman

Another high profile veteran of Europe, Zeman most recently managed AS Roma, the team for which US Men’s National team star Michael Bradley currently plays. He’s a big proponent of the 4-3-3 and isn’t very interested in defending, so his teams would be a ton of fun to watch as well. He spent a good chunk of his years in the second and third divisions of Italy so he’s not glued to the top of the talent pyramid.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 12%

Eric Wynalda

Now we’re starting to get into more realistic choices. The former US Men’s National team star has been very outspoken about pretty much every aspect of US Soccer and is itching for a chance to prove himself in MLS, especially after he led an semi-pro team deep into the US Open Cup last year. He’s currently pulling double duty with Fox Soccer and the Atlanta Silverbacks. I like the fact that he’s so outspoken and he’s willing to try new things. He’d probably want so much control that Brian Bliss wouldn’t be able to return as technical director, but that’s a small price to pay. Ultimately I think even Anthony Precourt and his somewhat limited knowledge of the sport would be hesitant to hire someone who wants that kind of control.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 33%

Brad Friedel

He’s currently in London backing up Hugo Lloris for Tottenham Hotspur, but he has his own academy up and running in Cleveland and he’s a former Crew player so this one makes a lot of sense. I’m not a huge fan of former players immediately joining the coaching ranks upon their retirement though. I’d like to see him put in a couple years full time with his academy before taking over in Columbus. That being said, I think he’s got a great mind for the game and I’d be pretty excited to see him sign up for the new era in Columbus.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 45%

Brian Bliss

I like Brian Bliss. A lot. Yes, you can say he put together this less than stellar roster, but he’s also the guy who found Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Gino Padula and brought them to Columbus. He has overseen a very well stocked Crew academy that has produced the likes of Wil Trapp and Ben Speas. He has helped keep this team competitive on a shoestring budget year after year and I’ll be very interested to see what he does during his time as interim coach.

I also have a feeling the Crew will keep him on long term after this season. Anthony Precourt has spoken a lot about modeling this team after Sporting Kansas City. Well, they’ve put Peter Vermes in charge of everything as a “Sporting Director”; essentially pulling double duty as head coach and technical director. I could definitely see the Crew doing the same thing with Bliss.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 65%

Guillermo Barros Schelotto

If Precourt has studied his history (and even if he has relied upon tweets from fans) he knows that this guy is the King of Columbus. Schelotto has already had tremendous success coaching Lanus in his native Argentina and that league is far more talented than MLS. Schelotto has also been very open and honest about his desire to return to MLS, specifically with Columbus. He has spoken at great length about how much he enjoyed living in Columbus as well.

This would be my first choice as long as Brian Bliss can be retained as technical director. Again, the head coach doesn’t have to worry about the financial hoops that need to be cleared to sign players in MLS as long as Bliss remains in his capacity as head scout. He can walk Guillermo through everything he needs to know.

Chances The Crew Sign Him: 57%

It really is impossible to tell which way the team is leaning. All I would ask is that they not turn to an old MLS coach. This team about to undergo some major re-branding and Jason Kreis (should RSL be dumb enough not to bring him back next season) doesn’t exactly scream “SEXY!”. I want to see this team look way outside the MLS box and get a guy who will play attractive soccer first and foremost. It’s clear that Warzycha’s direct, rigid approach hasn’t worked with this current squad so why not take the gloves off and go for an unorthodox tactician like Bielsa or Zeman?

Regardless, we’ll just have to sit back and watch what Brian Bliss can do for these final few games and who knows how long after that. Sit tight Crew fans. This could take a while.


Stuck In The Middle With Crew

 Posted by on August 25, 2013 at 5:27 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Aug 252013

Warning: I’m going to sound like “that guy” throughout this post.

Saturday’s loss to Salt Lake was soul crushing and while Anthony Precourt continues to make a good first impression (more on that in a bit) I’m not sold that this off-season will result in rainbows and sunshine either.

I didn’t actually watch the game on Saturday, mostly because I’m already tired of watching the choppy MLS Live feed but also because I had an ominous feeling going into the game. We’ve known for a while now that this is not a very good team and I had little hope they were going to continue their hot streak at the home of the best team in MLS right now. To make matters worse, Federico Higuain picked up not one, but two yellow cards and will miss the next game against Seattle. After Saturday’s result, Columbus is 16th of 19 teams in the overall standings. While they’re still alive mathematically, there’s very little chance the playoffs are still a possibility at this point.

So what now?

As far as I’m concerned, these next couple months will be downright agonizing to watch. Yes, I’ll make an effort to continue watching the games left on the schedule, but there’s absolutely nothing left for this team to play for. Most of the younger players like Wil Trapp and Chad Barson have already gotten plenty of playing time at this point and we’re starting to figure out how good they are. Robert Warzycha is a lame duck coach and Mark McCullers appears to be a lame duck general manager. Anthony Precourt won’t rush into any major decisions and probably isn’t even thinking beyond the next game at this point, much less what he’s going to do in his first off-season as owner.

I almost wish the Crew were fighting relegation at this point, but even that wouldn’t do much as they are still 8 points ahead of third-to-last Toronto. There’s nothing to hold the players accountable for their effort at this point. Sure we’d all like to believe this is a sports movie and they’ll rally around the suspended Higuain to get some extra motivation and suddenly play really competitively the rest of the way, but this is real life. College players are worthless, so there’s nothing to be gained from tanking the season and trying to get a high draft pick. There are probably half a dozen guys on this roster who won’t be back next season which means another re-building makeover is pretty likely.

What do the players have to play for at this point? And why should we watch?

I know a lot of people are being propped up by the hope Anthony Precourt offers as a new owner. There is talk of a new logo, a possible second DP signing, and maybe even a new stadium. Everyone has their two cents worth about what should happen now. Personally, I’m still terrified Anthony Precourt is going to put former Chicago Fire executive Dave Greeley in charge. Check out the following quote from Peter Wilt, one of the biggest soccer fans in the business, when he was in charge at Chicago and they were negotiating with Greeley & Co. over the Fire’s deal with the Bears about sharing Solider Field…

“While most of the city and Bears representatives were polite, though a bit patronizing, Dave seemed bent on putting the Fire in its place with condescending comments. At one point during the meeting, Greeley’s relentless disparagement of soccer and the Fire forced AEG’s Bill Peterson and me to swear at him (as I recall, it began with an “f” and ended with a “u”), get up from the table and head for the door.

“Burke stopped us in the hall way, apologized for Greeley and convinced us to return to the table.”

Even after Greeley’s departure in 2010 (he was charge for just two years from 2008-2010) before the season was even over, we can all look around and see that the Fire are still an after thought in the third largest populated city in the nation. Greeley grew up in the “Old Boys Club” that is NFL executive leadership and he’s the last person Crew fans should want to see replacing Mark McCullers.

Again, I hate to be “that guy” but there are dark days ahead for Crew fans. Do not assume that just because there’s a new owner in town, things are suddenly going to take off this off-season. And don’t expect much from the team on the field either. This team is stuck in purgatory with a coach unable to light a fire under their asses. They will finish out this season by showing up, collecting their paycheck, and going home to try and make it to the off-season where many of the questions we all have will eventually be answered. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Higuain looks around after this season and tells the front office he doesn’t want to be a part of whatever plans Precourt has for the immediate future.

For now, we’ll just have to settle for watching more mediocrity on the field and dozens of unanswered questions off of it.

Jul 302013

Wow! Talk about a bombshell!

For the first time ever, the Columbus Crew will not be operated by Hunt Sports Group. The team’s new overlord Precourt Sports Ventures is led by Anthony Precourt, a young financial guru based out of San Francisco.

At first this sounds like the kind of news many of us had been hoping to hear for several years. While Lamar Hunt himself was more than good to Columbus, his sons have largely ignored the MASSIVE club in favor of FC Dallas and the Kansas City Chiefs. We’ve cried out for change and our cries have been heard by the soccer gods.

Initially I had some pretty negative vibes coming from this announcement. Precourt was downright awkward during the press conference, reading straight from a piece of paper laid out in front of him. He spoke more about MLS as a league than the Crew specifically at first. Don Garber himself welcomed Precourt as the newest “MLS owner” and Precourt took over the official MLS twitter account Tuesday night instead of that of the Crew. Then there’s the fact that Precourt and his group are based out of San Francisco, more than halfway across the country. Precourt made it clear he is staying in San Francisco, though he did say he’d be buying a second home in Columbus.

What worried me more than anything else was that Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman almost sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as the rest of us when he said Precourt told him the club would “absolutely” stay in Columbus. Notice how Coleman said it for Precourt rather than Precourt himself saying it explicitly. It’s no secret Columbus is one of the 3-4 financially weakest teams in the league. It’s also no secret that new cities are popping daily as prospective homes to future MLS clubs.

You wouldn’t be completely off your rocker to suggest Precourt is, at the very least, considering the possibility of moving the Crew out of Columbus in the future. After all, when Clark Hunt had to backtrack after admitting he wanted to sell the club, he simultaneously assured us that the team would only be sold to a local ownership group. San Francisco is hardly right next door to Ohio.

Then there’s the timing of this announcement. The Crew have suffered back-to-back extra time backbreakers to a mediocre New England side and Toronto FC. Not only did Toronto snap a 400+ minute scoreless streak against Columbus, but they also won their first game at home in over a year. The significance of these two most recent results for Columbus cannot be overstated.

So why make the announcement now?

Most people will say it was done to calm an increasingly restless fan base. But I don’t believe that’s entirely accurate. The Hunts had made it clear they wanted out way back in February. To officially sell the team (effective immediately) after the two worst losses of the season suggests the Hunts were desperate to leave.

But why would PSV be so eager to seal the deal? Surely these last couple results would make them think twice about purchasing this team…?

This had me worried initially, but Precourt has been speaking out since the press conference and he has started to say some reassuring things. He took over the MLS twitter account, but spent the entire time answering questions about the Crew specifically. He confirmed there would be upgrades to the East side premier seating. He talked about how much he enjoys the team name and colors but wants to take a long, hard look at the badge. He said he would assess the team from top to bottom and start making a plan, as well as some personnel changes, once the season ends.

The more I hear him talk, the more I think maybe he’s serious about Columbus. PSV is less than a year old and Precourt himself is isn’t even 50 years old. Maybe the reason he needed so much help speaking at the press conference was because he’s new to this idea of owning a sports team. The fellas at Massive Report made a good point about how owning a sports team is more of a hobby than anything else for really old men who have made their wealth from something other than sports.

Everyone has to start somewhere, right? Maybe Precourt is simply learning about owning a sports team on the fly.

Still, it’s also possible Precourt entered the MLS single entity under the pretense that he’d watch over the Crew in Columbus until the rest of the league figured out where to move them. Perhaps the league has an interest in the actual Bay Area and not just San Jose. Precourt may simply be biding his time until a new option presents itself. According Clark Hunt, this sale took less than a year with Precourt approaching them initially back in December of last year.

The only thing we know for sure right now is that there are way more questions than answers surrounding PSV’s purchase of the Crew and the timing of the announcement. We’ll also have to wait until the end of the season before we get any sort of answer to any of the questions we all have.

In the meantime I suggest rocking out to Snow Patrol’s “Take Back The City” in the hope that there are bright days ahead for the Crew.

In Columbus.