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Apr 292013

YESSS!!! It feels SO good to write punderful headlines again!

Here, let me get a few more out of my system…

Columbus Offense Sets DC United Defense Ablaze!

Crew Offense Sparked By Scoreboard Fire!

At Long Last Columbus Crew’s Offense Is Heating Up! (For your NBA Jam fans)

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the game itself…

Since Columbus scored three times on Saturday night, I have just three observations to discuss.

1. Robert Warzycha’s lineup adjustments were not that impressive.

Yes, it was good to see Jairo Arrieta back on the field at the start of the game. But Warzycha trotted out the same 4-4-1-1 formation and went back to deploying Dominic Oduro out wide on the right. Ben Speas was relegated to the bench, along with Tyson Wahl who was replaced by Agustin Viana with Tony Tchani sliding into Viana’s usual holding midfield spot next to Danny O’Rourke.

If Oduro and Eddie Gaven are going to play out wide and if Warzycha is going to insist on playing two defensive midfielders at a time, then there needs to be a new formation. It should probably look something like this…


Williams – Marshall – Glauber – Wahl/Viana

O’Rourke – Viana/Tchani


Oduro – Arrieta – Gaven

It’s no use trying to masquerade Oduro and Gaven as midfielders since they are never going to track back and defend properly. If you insist on deploying two holding midfielders, then they can focus entirely on defending, especially out wide. Higuain gets the freedom to  roam into space and set up not one, not two, but three true attackers in front of him.

Everybody wins.

2. Josh Williams deserves a start at center back

Once again, the Crew were fortunate to be the beneficiaries of a blown offside call against DC that saved a goal.

Glauber still looks a half step too slow and does a poor job recovering if he gets beat down the middle; which has proven to be the best way to beat Columbus so far this season. Josh Williams solves that problem since he is faster and more athletic than the lumbering Brazilian.

This also opens up a spot at left back. There are several candidates who can fill the position. Agustin Viana looked capable before leaving the game in the first half. When he’s fully recovered, Bernardo Anor provides a ton of speed out wide to link up with Eddie Gaven. The third option didn’t reveal itself until Sunday’s reserve scrimmage with West Virginia. Rookie Kyle Hyland from IUPUI (what up Jaguars!) notched an assist and looked very comfortable at the position.

Warzycha will never go through with it, but it’s good to know the options are there.

3. Jairo Arrieta is the most important player on this team

Andy Gruenebaum will have to continue to be the Hebrew Hammer behind a porous backline, but Arrieta showed just how valuable he is on Saturday night. During his absence, the Crew attack found itself fizzling out quite a bit because teams would gang up on Federico Higuain, who was collecting the ball 40 yards from goal with only one option in front of him.

Arrieta, however, showed that he is more than capable of creating something of out nothing. He has a fantastic first touch and great ball control for a guy who, at a mere 5’10, constantly finds himself posting up larger defenders. The Crew can’t rely on goals from Higuain all season and Oduro is going to go six or seven games without scoring very soon.

The Costa Rica international will have to be the one who carries this team to the playoffs on his back.


Change Is Good

 Posted by on April 23, 2013 at 8:51 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Apr 232013

Mark McCullers and Robert Warzycha are the definition of “conservative”. They do not say more than what is required and they are not prone to overreaction.

But the former would be wise to consider doing something…spontaneous…after Saturday night’s loss in Chicago.

McCullers was uncharacteristically outspoken about this Columbus Crew roster prior to the start of the regular season. He spoke of aspirations that began with an Eastern Conference title and ended with the possibility of Columbus hosting MLS Cup 2013. He told us this year would be different, because this roster was different. He convinced us the sky was the limit.

Does he still believe that after Saturday’s pathetic showing against the Fire?

If he does, he needs to do something crazy. He needs to fire Robert Warzycha and replace him with Technical Director Brian Bliss.

In the first 6-8 weeks of the regular season, Warzycha has managed to alienate his best striker (Jairo Arrieta), deploy his best playmaker (Federico Higuain)  in a no-win situation as a second forward instead of a playmaking midfielder, and stood firm on the central midfield pairing of Agustin Viana and Danny O’Rourke. Of the seven goals allowed by Columbus this season, four have come from outside the penalty box. This would suggest that Viana and O’Rourke are not doing a good enough job of closing down long range shooters.

Yet Warzycha has shown no effort to make any sort of tactical or personnel changes in his Starting XI. His rigidness has become detrimental to the team’s success and McCullers should hold him responsible by not allowing him to see out the final year of his contract.

Brian Bliss is the obvious choice for an interim coach. He is the one who assembled this roster that McCullers has spoken so highly of. He is the one who can figure out how best to deploy them and start producing wins instead of draws at home. It’s time he had a chance to prov himself.

Columbus is not an organization with a history of knee-jerk reactions. But that has to change. The longer Warzycha is allowed to run this team into the ground, the more it harms the development of youngsters like Ben Speas, Wil Trapp, and Matias Sanchez. It wastes the talent of Pipa Higuain and Jairo Arrieta. The phrase “desperate times call for desperate measures” immediately comes to mind.

Let’s hope Mark McCullers is starting to get desperate before it’s too late.


Robert Warzycha Must Go

 Posted by on April 15, 2013 at 12:10 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Apr 152013

I’ve had enough. No more. My patience has been tested for long enough.

On Saturday Columbus needed a moment of magic from Dominic Oduro to save a point against the Eastern Conference leaders from Montreal.  But I take issue with the fact that Oduro was even starting in the first place.

Days after claiming that certain members of the team had grown comfortable in their starting spots, Robert Warzycha trotted out the same Starting XI he has used ever since Jairo Arrieta left to join his native Costa Rica in their quest for World Cup qualification. It looked a little something like this…


Williams – Marshall – Glauber – Wahl

Speas – Viana – O’Rourke – Gaven



Jairo Arrieta, who had started every match since joining Columbus last season up until his Costa Rica call up, was forced to watch from the bench as Oduro failed to hold onto the ball long enough for Columbus to create any meaningful chance. Up until Dominic Oduro’s wonderstrike, most Crew fans were tearing out their hair trying to figure out why the streaky Oduro was starting in place of the more consistent Arrieta.

Now, many are asking why the two can’t co-exist together.

And then there’s the matter of Agustin Viana and Danny O’Rourke STILL the central midfield pairing of choice for Warzycha. Both are more than capable of reclaiming the ball from an opposing side (when they avoid card-worthy tackles) but neither has much to offer going forward or even when it comes to retaining their new found possession. O’Rourke in particular is a testament to the old days of MLS as a whole; when physicality and “toughness” were valued over technical ability and tactical vision. He cannot be a starter in MLS in 2013. Viana is at least a capable aerial threat on set pieces as we saw from one first half corner kick in particular.

For a moment in the second half, right after Oduro’s goal, we thought we might get to see what Oduro and Arrieta can do on the field at the same time. But Oduro pulled up limp and had to leave just moments after Arrieta entered the game.

And so the Black & Yellow were fortunate to earn one point when three were a very real possibility after Montreal looked slow and non-threatening for most of the match.

Which brings me to my not so subtle headline.

I have long defended the Polish Rifle as the right man for this team. I applaud his professionalism both on and off the field. But his “consistency” over the years has turned to stubbornness and its time another coach take over in Columbus at the conclusion of the 2013 season. His tendency to alienate his stars (see: Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2009) has reared its ugly head again with his decision to leave Jairo Arrieta on the bench for the last two games. There are rumblings among the players that the former Everton and Columbus striker is far too rigid with his managerial style.

I say he should be allowed to finish out the season because he is in the final year of his contract and a mid-season change is rarely the best solution. I do find it encouraging that General Manager Mark McCullers has not given Warzycha a new deal yet. It appears that he, like most of us, sees that a change is needed soon.

So who should take over should Waryzcha depart after this season? That is a very difficult question to answer. One of the reasons I felt Warzycha was a good fit initially was because he has been with Columbus since Day 1; first as a player and then as a long time assistant coach.

So with that in mind, I would give serious consideration to handing the reins over to Technical Director Brian Bliss. He’s the one who continues to find great international signings and make wise decisions in the MLS Superdraft. He knows these individuals better than most and he can find a way to put them where they need to be in order to have success.

But that’s another discussion for another day. For now it”s clear that there needs to be a change, regardless of how the season ends for Columbus.

Lessons Learned

 Posted by on April 8, 2013 at 8:09 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Apr 082013

I have long defended Robert Warzycha.

I respect the way he approaches managing a team both on and off the field. He is a consummate professional.

Unfortunately, he is starting to plant seeds of doubt in my mind about his tactical prowess. Part of said prowess includes managing his players’ egos on a week to week basis. Saturday’s come-from-behind draw with Philadelphia concluded the first five games of the 2013 regular season and presented Robert Warzycha with pretty much everything he needs to worry about going forward.

In no particular order…

Dominic Oduro Cannot Start

…unless he is partnered with Jairo Arrieta up top. Saturday marked the first time in his Columbus career that Arrieta was not a member of the Starting XI. Having been called up by his native Costa Rica recently for his fine form since joining the Crew, Arrieta’s ego is ripe for offense. To go another match without starting Arrieta would be a huge mistake on Warzycha’s part.

Then there’s the actual tactical issues.

After five games, I think it’s safe to assume that Oduro and his blazing fast speed are better deployed in some sort of advanced forward role rather out wide on the right. Arrieta does well to hold the ball up despite his lack of size and strength. He is more than capable of combining with Oduro and Federico Higuain to form a potent trident on the attack. I don’t have numbers to prove it, but I’m sure said numbers would tell us that the Costa Rica international finishes much more efficiently than Oduro.

The Backline Needs More Speed

Offside or not, Philadelphia’s goal showed that while Chad Marshall and Glauber are incredibly strong in the air, they are lacking in simple foot speed. Marshall would do well to avoid the offside trap as much as possible from here on out.

I’ve spoken highly of Drew Beckie’s athleticism and I still think he deserves a chance to show us what he can do, but he’s not a long term solution. Warzycha should be trying as hard as he can to cut out the offside trap from the overall game plan.

The Viana-O’Rourke Pairing Doesn’t Work

Neither of them have anything to offer going forward, which just makes life all the more difficult for Federico Higuain. Both are also very prone to “reckless” challenges and thus are high risks for cards.

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one scratching their head as to why we don’t see more of Matias Sanchez. I like him as a distributor much better than Viana or O’Rourke and he inspires a lot more confidence with the ball at his feet in general. The same can be said of Will Trapp, but he’s got enough on his plate with the US U-20 team this summer while Tony Tchani is still a huge question mark.

Sanchez is the answer in central midfield…for now.

Don’t Forget About Justin Meram And Ryan Finley

Especially Meram!

His game is the same as the newly revealed Ben Speas. He’s great on the ball and has a good shot from distance. It’s hard to find a spot for him with Speas playing so well and Eddie Gaven being Eddie Gaven, but Meram should probably be platooning the left flank with Speas for the time being.

Ryan Finley faces the same issue: there doesn’t appear to be a regular starting spot for him. But unlike Meram, Finley has something to distinguish himself from his competition: soccer IQ. Finley knows how and (more importantly) when to make all the right runs in behind the defense. He’s also as strong as he is quick and finishes just as lethally as Arrieta. Warzycha need not be afraid of playing him just because of his age.

These are the biggest issues facing the 2013 Columbus Crew. If Robert Waryzcha can solve these four riddles, there’s no reason the Crew can’t contend for an Eastern Conference crown. If he can’t then perhaps it’s time Mark McCullers started looking elsewhere for a head coach in 2014.


Mar 172013

*Full Disclose-I did NOT watch Saturday’s match*

That being said, I did follow along on Twitter all night and sounds like the game was just as (if not more) disappointing than last Saturday’s loss to Vancouver.

San Jose was missing half their starting lineup and the crowd in Columbus was better than I expected for such dreary weather conditions.

This game was ripe for the taking of three points.

Instead, we saw the same lineup from the Vancouver loss go out and play a disappointing match. By most accounts, Ben Speas continued to look better but I didn’t hear many other positives. I did see the highlights of both goals and San Jose’s goal was as disappointing as Glauber’s was powerful. Sure the defense gave up way too much space, but that is a shot that Andy Gruenebaum should have done better with.

There’s no beating around the bush: this is a bad sign of things to come. Sunday brings a MASSIVE opportunity to turn things around against DC United, but I just don’t see it right now. General Manager Mark McCullers’ great expectations for this team have made things even more disappointing. McCullers is hardly one talk a big game, so I raised my expectations accordingly.

But a 2-1 loss to Vancouver and a 1-1 draw at home against San Jose are not the results of a championship side. Robert Warzycha will need to put his conservative ways aside and make some adjustments for the trip to DC is things are going to change. For a man in the last year of his contract with no new deal in sight, Warzycha seems unusually calm.

Perhaps it’s finally time to light a fire under himself.



Mar 142013

So now that I’m done preaching gloom and doom, let’s focus on something more positive!

Earlier this week I lamented the all around poor performances across the Columbus starting lineup against Vancouver. This week San Jose comes to town before the Crew travel to Washington DC next week for a nationally televised match with United.

I was very critical of Brazilian newcomer Glauber for being a half step too slow against the Whitecaps attack last week and I wonder if a brief benching wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s not so much that I don’t believe in him, but rather I want to see what second round draft pick Drew Beckie can do.

It’s hard enough judging a player based on some highlight video that is obviously meant to flatter the individual in question. But something struck me about Beckie when I saw his highlight video ahead of the draft. The defender out of Denver has all the physical to compete in MLS. He’s as fast as he is strong; two qualities the Crew defense as a whole was lacking last week. I think he could play anywhere across the backline, but Glauber’s spot in the middle of the defense next to Chad Marshall would be a good place to start. I suppose you could slide Williams into the center of the defense and let Beckie play wide right as well but he doesn’t have much to offer going forward with the attack.

We also found out this week that Jairo Arrieta will miss next week’s trip to DC after being called up to join his native Costa Rica for their upcoming World Cup qualifier against the US in Colorado. If Robert Warzycha is going to insist on deploying Dominic Oduro out wide on the right, then next Sunday would suggest an opportunity for first round draft pick Ryan Finley to get the start and go for at least 60 minutes. Finley has impressed me in two very limited substitution appearances. He’s got a good first touch for such a big, strong forward and he makes smart runs and keeps most of his shots on frame. He should have earned a late penalty kick against Vancouver after making a brilliant run that Federico Higuain picked out. Hopefully he’ll get another appearance this weekend and then the start next weekend.

Until then, we need a lineup for Saturday’s home opener with San Jose. But before I get to that, allow me a moment to suggest a new song for the Nordecke this season to the tune of The Beastie Boys’ hit “Girls”…

Crew! All I really want is Crew!

And in the morning it’s Crew!

‘Cause in the evening it’s Crew!

I like the way that they walk

And it’s chill to hear them talk

And they can always make us smile

From White Castle to the Nile!

Okay…here’s my preferred lineup for the week!


Williams – Marshall – Beckie – Wahl

Sanchez – Tchani

Oduro – Higuain – Speas


I’m through with Danny O’Rourke trying to play both ways and I’m starting to form the same opinion of Agustin Viana. Ben Speas impressed me enough last week to earn a start over Eddie Gaven as a precaution.

Prediction: Crew 2-1 San Jose

Have a MASSIVE Saint Patrick’s Day!!!

Mar 112013

Maybe it was turf and maybe it wasn’t.

Saturday’s loss to Vancouver stung me quite a bit. It wasn’t just about losing because of Daigo Kobayashi’s long range bomb that Andy Gruenebaum misjudged. Columbus looked seriously out of sorts against the Whitecaps. Outside of Federico Higuain, it seemed like every single player on the field had a poor first touch. They were a half step too slow to react. The defensive midfield duo of Agustin Viana and Danny O’Rourke couldn’t stay on their feet half the time. Vancouver simply looked like they were the better side.

But are they?

I struggled to answer that question throughout the game on Saturday night. Which is the real Columbus Crew: the team that beat Chivas USA 3-1 or the one that lost to Vancouver? I’m starting to think it’s the latter. I came to stark realization on Saturday that this team has no true “box-to-box” central midfielders. Viana, Matias Sanchez, and Tony Tchani are all more naturally deployed as holding midfielders while Danny O’Rourke is more of a defender than anything else. O’Rourke showed us just how little he has to offer in the final third when he blasted a good chance just outside the 18 midway through the first half. Sanchez and Tchani looked much better going forward when they came on in the second half.

Then there was the back line. As big and strong as they are, they all looked a half step too slow and that was up against Kenny Miller. Darren Mattocks and rookie substitute Eriq Zavaleta both exposed Glauber as hardly fleet of foot. Andy Gruenebaum probably didn’t have a chance to stop Kobayashi’s goal anyway, but you can’t help but wonder if he was a bit high off his line.

The forwards were the lone bright spot. Youngster Ben Speas, who started in place of the late scratch Eddie Gaven, looked impressive at times as he linked up well with Federico Higuain. It will be interesting to see what he can do on an actual grass surface. Jairo Arrieta struggled alone up top, but he also showed he can finish any chance with his early second half goal. Dominic Oduro showed flashes of brilliance and ineptitude throughout the match. Ryan Finley did well to draw a penalty that ultimately wasn’t called when he came on late as a sub. The rookie from Notre Dame might get a shot to play 60-90 minutes with the news that Arrieta will travel to Denver with his native Costa Rica for their World Cup qualifier against the United States in 10 days.

It’s still early and the season has a long way to go, but Saturday’s loss was still very discouraging. Columbus blew a golden opportunity for earn at least point, if not three, on the road. But they have some time to make up for it, starting with Saturday night’s home opener against a San Jose side that isn’t nearly as good as they were last season when they won the Supporters Shield. More to come on them later this week.

In the meantime, keep your heads up and stay MASSIVE Crew Faithful. Blame Canada!



Mar 072013

That’s right, Danny O’Rourke cannot start this weekend against Vancouver.

Look, I get it: He’s scrappy and he always works his butt off. But last Saturday I saw shades of the dark side of Danny O’Rourke we’ve come to know and fear. He makes questionable decisions and tries to gamble with his tackles when he gets beat. He’s a ticking red card just waiting to be flashed. Columbus can ill afford to have such a volatile player on the field against a very clever and dangerous Vancouver side that will punish defensive mistakes.

So who should start in the center of the middle with Augustin Viana? Ideally I would prefer Matias Sanchez, but I would be okay with giving Tony Tchani a chance as well. The defense is fine as it is. His thrilling box-to-box goal aside, I wasn’t impressed with Dominic Oduro out wide on the right. I still think he’d be better served as a strike partner for Jairo Arrieta and letting Higuain drop back into a “trequartista” type midfielder and distribute.

So with that in mind, here’s my preferred lineup for Saturday’s match against Vancouver…


Williams – Marshall – Glauber – Wahl


Gaven           –         Meram


Oduro – Arrieta

I still want to see how the diamond midfield would work. I also want to see Meram get a legitimate chance to become a regular starter. Vancouver’s defense will be hurting with the loss of Jay DeMerit and San Jose comes to town next week, so now is as good a time as any to tinker with things up top.

Prediction: Columbus 1-1 Vancouver


Columbus Crew 2013 Season Outlook

 Posted by on February 27, 2013 at 10:08 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Feb 272013

Crewsmas Eve is fast approaching!

I’ve talked defense. I’ve talked midfield. I’ve talked forwards. Now it’s time to figure out how things will play out.

Robert Warzycha’s Projected Starting XI


Williams – Marshall – Glauber – Wahl

Sanchez – Viana

Oduro – Higuain – Gaven


This is the Starting XI that Warzycha trotted out against Montreal and so you would assume this is what he wants for Saturday night against Chivas. It makes a lot of sense and it’s a very safe bet. With two midfielders cleaning up in front of the back four, the Crew can play the kind of conservative game that Warzycha loves so much. The X Factor is Oduro out wide on the right. The sooner he can adjust to playing as a wide midfielder, the better.

My Starting XI


Williams – Marshall – Glauber – Wahl


Gaven – Meram


Oduro- Arrieta

This team’s strength is its plethora of options up top. As much as I hate to have Higuain drop back into a midfield role, I’d rather see Oduro deployed ahead of him as a true striker. With two true strikers, Higuain can play more of a “trequartista” role and I think that’s ultimately better than having him as, for all intents and purposes, a second forward. I think this is Meram’s year to shine. He’s got the dribbling skills and long distance shooting skills to be a good wide midfielder.

Team MVP

This is Higuain’s team. As he goes, so goes the Crew’s season. Last season Arrieta was more valuable because he was Higuain’s only option up top. With the addition of Oduro and Ryan Finley’s excellent preseason, Arrieta has less pressure to be the top, true goalscorer.

Breakout Star

You’ve heard me babble about Matias Sanchez…and I’m going to continue doing so. He’s the ideal central midfielder Columbus has always lacked and his big game experience will be invaluable. The 25 year old Argentine will draw a lot of raised eyebrows with his performance this season.

Youngster Of The Year

I like Wil Trapp a lot, but unfortunately he’s still a year or two away. Drew Beckie, however, is ready to go. I think we’ll see some better than expected performances from him off the bench at all three spots along the back line. His athleticism cannot be understated and he’ll learn to pass out of the back as the season goes on.


As with last season, August will prove to be the toughest month of the year. Columbus travels to New York, Seattle, and Toronto while hosting Houston and Real Salt Lake. The key will be getting off to a hot start and staying at the top of the Eastern Conference throughout the first couple months. Luckily, the first two games of the season (away to Chivas and home against Vancouver) offer Columbus a very easy six points. Seven of their eight matches in April and May will come against Eastern Conference opponents. If the team is going to do well, they’ll need to start much faster than last season.


This team WILL make the playoffs. I don’t know who they kick out of last year’s field, but this team has what it takes. As long as the defense holds up, the additions of Oduro and Finley will take the pressure off Arrieta to be the only goal-scoring option. Think about how much the Crew have struggled to score in the past. If Oduro and Finley can tally just 5-6 goals each, it will go a long way towards helping the team outscore its opponents on night’s when the defense is struggling.

Expect MASSIVE things from Columbus this season!


Feb 272013

This off-season I said Jairo Arrieta had been the bigger pickup over Federico Higuain. The former has been tearing it up with Costa Rica of late, but the latter is still going to have the bigger impact in 2013.

Higuain has been outspoken from the first day of training camp about his desire to not just make the playoffs, but compete for a title in 2013. He won’t sneak up on anyone in MLS in 2013, but he also has a number of new options to help him out up top along with Arrieta. Ryan Finley looks like a great finisher after being drafted ninth overall out of Notre Dame and the speedy Dominic Oduro arrives as part of the Dilly Duka trade with Chicago. Former trialist Aaron Schoenfeld also looked good in preseason and six feet, four inches he’s a solid aerial threat on set pieces.

Here’s the individual break down…

Federico Higuain

“Gonzalo’s Older Brother” broke onto the scene during the second half of last season and now has had a full off-season to develop chemistry his strike partner Jairo Arrieta as well as newcomers Ryan Finley and Dominic Oduro.

Jairo Arrieta

The complete forward has been impressing with his native Costa Rica of late and will look to solidify his 1-2 punch with Higuain. Expect him to be near the top of the league in offside infractions this season, but also expect double digit goals.

Ryan Finley

The rookie out of Notre Dame has shown a real knack for finishing chances throughout the preseason. I’ve got questions about his attitude given his troubled past in college, but there’s no doubt he can be a great target striker in MLS for years to come.

Dominic Oduro

Oduro will look to make an impression after coming over from Chicago in the Dilly Duka trade. As his Twitter handle suggests, he is “freaky fast” but has struggled to actually score goals ever since he netted 12 for the Fire in 2011. Rumor has it Chicago dealt him because he wasn’t happy about being asked to play out wide on the right. He continued to play that spot for Columbus throughout the preseason and he’ll probably have to play in that spot if he wants to be a regular starter. If he can match his 2012 total of six goals, he’ll have earned his keep.

Aaron Schoenfeld

He made the tall striker made the team as a trialist last season and looks like a reserve to start the season, but he’s still an aerial threat for Higuain on set pieces.


So that wraps up the positional breakdowns. Stay tuned for one last piece about my projected Starting XI and an outlook for the entire season.