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Oct 312013

If you’re looking for fond reminiscing about Eddie Gaven’s career in Columbus you’ve come to the wrong place. There are plenty more “memorials” out there that will paint the image of a humble man who left a lasting impression on the Columbus Crew; which is 100% accurate.

But I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about his legacy on the greater American soccer landscape.

Eddie Gaven signed with the old Metrostars in 2003 at the age of 16. He was the original MLS prodigy. He was the first (but certainly not the last) attempt to generate buzz for MLS during its darker days. Freddy Adu would go on to become the youngest player to sign with and play for an MLS team, but Eddie Gaven was the original.

Gaven would go on to make 69 appearances for the Metrostars from 2003-2005 and then he signed with Columbus in 2006. He ultimately made 209 appearances for the Black And Gold and was an integral part in helping them earn two Supporters Shields (2004, 2008) and one MLS Cup (2008). His game didn’t necessarily reflect the flashy hype that surrounded his signing with the Metrostars. He was primarily used as a wide midfielder in Columbus where he tirelessly chased the game from box to box on the flanks without complaint. He scored a handful of goals each season and tallied a few assists as well. By all measures, he has been an above average MLS player ever since he came to Columbus in 2006.

So you can imagine the shock that is still being felt when he suddenly came to the Crew at the age of 27 and said he wanted to focus his attention on the next phase of his life. Professional athletes who retire at such a “young” age are few and far between. That burning desire to play at an elite level is what keeps them going. Although he is young by your typical professional soccer standards, Gaven seems to have lost that burning desire.

And that’s okay.

As the original teen phenom, Gaven got his first taste of professional soccer right around the same time he was preparing to get his drivers license. He started so much sooner than most professional athletes, regardless of the sport. Over the last year or two I’ve had to remind myself of this as I watched him jog up and down the field with that borderline sad basset hound look on his face. Even though he was still a few years away from hitting that “plateau” of 30 years old, he looked beaten beyond his years.

Many people out there (myself included) have criticized Landon Donovan for lacking that same burning desire and simply going through the motions. If the US is ever going to turn into a World Cup contender and a major player in the global market for soccer, it needs players willing to sweat and toil and earn a spot in the starting XI for great teams as early in their lives as possible. They need to be robots who simply want to know when the next game is. It sounds harsh, but look around the professional soccer landscape and you’ll see plenty of great players who started making regular first team appearances before the age of 21. Those players hit the “prime” of their careers right around the age of 26-27.

Eddie Gaven was not one of those players. And that’s OK!

His retirement, however, comes at a very interesting time. The New England Revolution have found their own teenage phenom in Diego Fagundez. At the age of 18 he is leading his team into the MLS playoffs and appears to have a bright future ahead of him. I would be stunned if he wound up retiring at the age of 27 like Gaven. He’ll go on to have a long and prosperous career, whether it’s in MLS or elsewhere. He’ll be one of those “robots” I mentioned.

With Gaven retiring right before New England takes on Kansas City in the Eastern Conference playoffs, it appears we have closed the book on one chapter in American soccer history and opened another. Eddie Gaven’s retirement signals the end of the “teenage phenom” era of MLS and American Soccer. With the arrival of Fagundez and other young players like Columbus’s Wil Trapp, Real Salt Lake’s Luis Gil, and even former DC United winger Andy Najar, we are no longer wowed by young players under the age of 21 starting regularly for MLS teams. Take a look over at Europe and you’ll see guys like 20 year old John Anthony Brooks playing regularly with Germany’s Hertha Berlin. 18 year old midfield sensation Julian Green has been tearing it up with Bayern Munich’s reserves and looks poised to receive his first US Men’s National team call up. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him make a couple appearances with Bayern’s first team in the next year or two. And that team is stacked!

Yes, other teenage phenoms from MLS’s dark past like Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu are still playing and won’t call it quits so soon. But the timing of Gaven’s retirement is still significant in terms of how far we’ve come in terms of expectations for player development in American soccer. There is still a ton of room to grow, but the first step is recognizing the need for players to get meaningful first team minutes early on.

As I mentioned above, Eddie Gaven lost the burning desire needed to succeed at such a high level much quicker than most players. And again: that’s OK! Landon Donovan has also lost that desire to a certain extent given his “sabbatical” last December and his decision to leave an impressive stint at Everton to return to MLS where he is less challenged as a player. However, Gaven will still be the last player we see retire at such a young age. He’s the last of the “old” teenage phenoms if you will; the ones who used up their passion a bit too quickly. Now we’ll start to see young Americans keep that passion kindled throughout long and prosperous professional careers.

Please don’t think of Eddie Gaven as a quitter though. He’s not. He’s simply the last of one generation of American soccer players. He can hold his head high walking away on his own terms.

And he can do so knowing he helped usher in a new generation of American soccer players.

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 202013

Now that the Columbus Crew are officially eliminated from the playoffs, we can finally stop doing dimwitted BASEketball playoff math and start focusing on the future of the team under their new ownership group.

Next Saturday’s final game of the 2013 season presents plenty of opportunities, even though the team isn’t going to the playoffs. New England will still have something to play for as their playoff fate has yet to be determined. They will be hungry for a win. This is a good thing and can provide a valuable experience for the younger players on this team. The biggest beneficiary is Wil Trapp, assuming Brian Bliss chooses to do what I’m proposing.

Let Wil Trapp take over for Federico Higuain as the team’s designated “playmaker”.

Saturday’s loss to New England full exposed Trapp’s greatness weakness: his strength or lack thereof. It’s easy to say he just needs to grow into his man body and hit the weight room and then he’ll be fit to play his holding midfield role. But Trapp’s best qualities actually make him a viable option as a traditional “No. 10″; a playmaker linking the forwards and the rest of the midfield. Obviously Higuain thrives in this role, but Trapp is only 20 and I think it’s worth giving him the responsibility of distributing next weekend against New England. He has great vision, he’s responsible on the ball, and his technical ability (first touch, dribbling, etc) might actually be second only to Higuain. We already know he’s struggling as a holding midfielder right now, so why not experiment and see what he’s capable of in a different position?

I’d love to see Bliss trot out one of these potential lineups…


Barson – Gehrig – Marshall – Hyland


Finlay          -          Speas


Schoenfeld     –     Finley



Barson – Gehrig – Marshall – Hyland

Tchani     –     George


Meram     –     Finley     –    Speas

The diamond 4-4-2 up top is probably more realistic since Bliss has little creativity with his tactics, though maybe he’ll change things up for the final game of the season. By all accounts, Kyle Hyland has had a decent season with the reserves as a left back and it’s worth trying to find out what he’s capable of against first team competition. I’m still not a huge fan of Aaron Schoenfeld, but his goal on Saturday earns him an encore in my eyes. The rest of these lineups (except for Marshall obviously) makes up the U-25 core of the team that’s essentially auditioning for their future with the team and possibly a new coach.

Unfortunately not even YouTube has a video of Wil Trapp highlights from his time with the US U-20 team at the World Cup this past summer, but possibly his best performance was as captain against France in the group stage. He had several decent shots from distance and did a great job providing a link between his fellow midfielders and the 3-man forward line that the US used throughout the tournament. I think if you put him behind a 3-man line of Meram-Finley-Speas you’d be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Something tells me we won’t see Trapp is such an advanced role, but I think it’s a position he is well suited for and there’s really only one way to find out for sure. I have absolutely no idea what to expect from a lineup perspective next weekend, but those are my two preferences. The team has managed to squander any potential from Justin Meram as a true winger and/or striker and Ryan Finley hasn’t had nearly enough playing time this season for us to determine his potential.

I really hope we’ll learn something new about Trapp next weekend, but who knows.

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.

Aug 052013

There are many problems with the Columbus Crew right now.


Many people point to a lack of talented up front when it comes to finishing. Some say it’s all because Robert Warzycha can’t figure out how to play his best players. Others will blame the front office for not spending more money on better overall talent. These are all legitimate issues. I, however, don’t see any of them as THE issue for the Crew; their No.1 concern going into next year and beyond.

I had the pleasure of attending Saturday night’s game against Houston. Yes Columbus lost, but it was still nice to finally watching the team play in person. I’m glad I had this opportunity because I was finally able to confirm my worst fear after the losses against New England and Toronto.

The biggest problem facing the Columbus Crew is the decline of Chad Marshall’s form.

The veteran center back is only 28 years old, but he’s missed so much time with concussion-related injuries that it genuinely feels like he’s in his early 30′s. It also feels like it’s been ages since Marshall won back-to-back MLS Defender Of The Year awards in 2008 and 2009. He used to be the one player Crew fans could always count on. He was the glue that held the back line together; the stereotypical “field general” commanding his troops to success. The center back position was never a concern. Columbus would always be a difficult team to score against and it was almost always thanks to Chad Marshall.

Fast forward to 2013 and we see a completely different Crew defense. While the first goal in the New England was not actually his fault, disorganization on a corner kick falls on your goalkeeper and your No.1 center back. Marshall was much more culpable on the second goal. That kind of poor pass/communication is not something we are used to seeing from Chad. He used to be better than that. He never made such poor decisions. Then it got worse in Toronto when he was straight up torched on the equalizer and completely lost track of Andrew Wiedeman on the winner for Toronto. Then there was his poorly advised challenge early in the Houston game that led to the penalty that opened the proverbial floodgates for the rest of the evening.

We’ve never seen so many critical mistakes from Chad Marshall in an entire season, much less a three game stretch like this one. The fact that Chad is only 28 almost makes things worse. If he’s becoming less and less reliable now, what will happen when he hits the “magical” age of 30 when most soccer players really start to see their form decline? Add in the fact that he’s been partnered with either Glauber Berti (older and slower than Marshall) or Danny O’Rourke (older and even more reckless) and suddenly there is a serious need at center back not just for 2014, but for the next 5-10 years. That’s what makes Marshall’s dip in performance so back-breaking: he was supposed to be one of the veterans who could hang around for the next 5 years and groom “the next Chad Marshall” who would take over as captain of the back line when Marshall turned 30.

No one on the roster currently inspires confidence. Eric Gehrig has his moments, but he’s already 24 and doesn’t get enough playing time to learn from his mistakes and get better on a regular basis. Josh Williams has so little soccer IQ that he has no choice but to slide out to the right. Kevan George didn’t inspire when he started at center back during an away game against New York in June. Chad Barson isn’t big/strong enough and Drew Beckie continues to fight minor injuries preventing him from having the opportunity to show us what he can/cannot do.

The Crew will need to look outside their current roster for a solution at one of the most vital positions on the field. Fortunately, Brian Bliss is still technical director, Robert Warzycha is almost certainly on his way out after this season, and there’s still the possibility that new Crew owners Precourt Sports Ventures will make an effort to pump some cash into the roster this offseason. There’s no reason Chad can’t break out of his slump and start playing better, but in the meantime he is clearly not the steady he used to be when he commanded one of the toughest back lines in MLS.

If his form doesn’t pick up, however, it’s simply another bullet point on a laundry list of problems facing Columbus; one they really cannot afford at this time.