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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 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 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.

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.

Down, But Not Out

 Posted by on June 4, 2013 at 10:13 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
Jun 042013

Look, I get it: We all love Eddie Gaven.

He’s a hard working motherbear who never complains and never says the wrong thing. He’s the guy you want next to you in a foxhole. He fits the mold of the cliche perfect teammate.

But his season-ending ACL tear is not the end of the world.

Quick Tangent: It bothers me A LOT when people speak with a sad/grieving tone about athletes who tear their ACL. They aren’t dying. They aren’t dead. They WILL walk again. Too many people in the world are truly worthy of our sympathy and not one of them plays pro sports. 

Yes, Eddie scored nine goals last season and set up twice as many. You could even make the case that Columbus doesn’t advance in the US Open Cup against Dayton without him. But he is not a goalscorer or even a true “trequartista” playmaker like Guillermo. He wasn’t going to reach 10 goals or 10 assists this season and he probably would’ve been lucky to notch half of those numbers. His job was to advance the ball up the wing and open up space in the middle for Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain to run wild.

His was a very replaceable role.

In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that his injury can HELP the Crew long term. With Gaven out, suddenly both wide midfield positions are open for auditions.

(Actually this assumes Robert Warzycha won’t continue trotting out a 4-4-1-1 with Oduro as a wide midfielder…which is probably what we’ll wind up seeing for the rest of the season.)

Justin Meram, Ben Speas, Ethan Finlay, and even Bernardo Anor are all talented young players who need regular first team minutes to achieve their potential. Think about how much more dangerous Arrieta and Oduro can be when teams have to face the prospect of containing both Meram and Speas at the same time. Both are natural wide midfielders with pace and solid dribbling skills. Finlay is even faster than those two and Anor’s left foot is sorely needed in the attack so that Tyson Wahl can stay home and defend.

Just imagine what this team could (potentially) trot out…

Barson – Williams – Glauber – Wahl


Meram (Finlay) – Speas (Anor)


Arrieta – Oduro

Suddenly “the goals will come” is no longer a hollow bumper stick for the future; it’s very much real. This is a lineup that can spend the rest of this season gelling and preparing for an actual Eastern Conference run in 2014, but without fielding a dull team incapable of entertaining the masses of Columbus even in defeat.

Of course, this would require tactical flexibility from Warzycha, or perhaps even his outright dismissal. The point is that Eddie Gaven’s injury has opened up more opportunities than setbacks. Let’s hope the organization can take advantage.

What Could Have Been…

 Posted by on May 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm  Blogs/Media, Columbus Crew, MLS, United States
May 052013

So Saturday’s 1-0 loss to New York REALLY sucked, no?

The team finally looked poised to make a run over the next couple weeks as they knocked the ball around and kept Thierry Henry relatively quiet for most of the game. Hell, Federico Higuain even got a nice penalty kick to put a pretty bow on the three points that were surely headed Columbus’s way.

Then Higuain telegraphed his shot and Louis Robles kept the score level at 0-0.

After that New York sprang to life and eventually Tim Cahill headed home a rebound that flew just out of reach for Andy Gruenebaum.


It was an infuriating and agonizing result; a complete waste of potential. The players and coaches said as much after the game. The salt in the wound was, of course, Robert Warzycha waiting until beyond the 80th minute to make any sort of substitution or tactical change. As usual, I found myself second guessing the Polish Rifle’s lineup and tactical instructions; we all do it.

But then I started to dig a little deeper. I thought about all the good players who have left the Crew over the years. I thought about what Saturday’s game (and the rest of the season for that matter) would be like if things had broken differently for the Crew ever since their MLS Cup winning season in 2013. For the purposes of this discussion, I focused only on players the Crew have lost in Expansion drafts of years past. For example…

2008-Brad Evans (Seattle)

2009-Alejandro Moreno (Philadelphia)

2010-Eric Brunner/Adam Moffat (Portland)

2011-Josh Gardner (Montreal)

So let’s take care of the obvious first. Alejandro Moreno was on the last legs of his career when he departed for Philly in 2009 and Josh Gardner, while serviceable, was hardly a world beater at left back when he departed.

The other three guys, however, are a different story. Sure, Warzycha may never have utilized any of them or perhaps even traded them away eventually (come back Brian Carroll!) but let’s assume Evans, Brunner, and Moffat did progress and play regularly for Columbus. What would the line up look like today…


Williams – Marshall – Brunner – Wahl


Gaven                  -                     Evans


Arrieta      -         Oduro



Williams – Marshall – Brunner – Wahl

Gaven – Moffat – Evans – Speas



Wow. Just wow. Look at either of those lineups and tell me this team isn’t currently in first place in the East coming off an MLS Cup Final appearance. Suddenly there’s no question surrounding who will take over Chad Marshall in 2-3 years. There’s no debate about who is playing the center of the midfield. There’s tons of scoring options across said midfield.

If you really want to torture yourself like I did, just think about if Guillermo and Gino were the 1-2 coaching punch leading this group. What if a local ownership group suddenly came together out nowhere and came up with $200 million for a new stadium downtown; a la Kansas City’s recent gift from the heavens. Said stadium could’ve been put in the Arena District next to Nationwide and suddenly 19,000 are showing up for every game.

On and on it goes…

But we who are faithful to the MASSIVE club are not so fortunate. We must press on with what little we have and continue to hope for the best.

“Be Massive!!!”

May 022013

The Crew will host New York in a nationally televised game this Saturday May 4. This day has also become an international holiday to help nerds like me celebrate all things Star Wars.

Allow me to present a special breakdown of the 2013 Columbus Crew, inspired by one of the greatest movies of all time…

Jairo Arrieta = Luke Skywalker

Young and fairly handsome, Jairo Arrieta navigates the Death Star trenches that are an opponent’s defense. He’ll be the one who ultimately takes the game winning shot, even if his target to score is only two meters wide. The fate of the 2013 Crew’s season ultimately rests in his hands (and feet).

Danny O’Rourke = Han Solo

O’Rourke may not seem like the second best good guy in black and yellow, but don’t tell him that. Just like Han, the holding midfielder is a reckless pirate with the unenviable task of retrieving the Crew’s most precious cargo: the ball. He may look a bit past his prime, but O’Rourke is still capable of taking the Millenium Falcon through the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. Unlike Han, however, O’Rourke gets the award for Crew player Least Likely To Shoot First.

Federico Higuain = R2-D2

He may not be the biggest player out on the field of battle, but the Argentine playmaker always makes the right move just in the nick of time to give his teammates a chance to succeed. Also, his English is still limited to the point that he might as well be speaking in bells and whistles.

Glauber = Chewbacca

He’s big. He’s hairy. He’ll rip your arms out of their sockets if you beat him at cards.

Let the Glauber win!

Eddie Gaven = Wedge Antilles

Much like that one guy who survived the Death Star assault beside Luke Skywalker and went on become the “Luke Skywalker” of Return Of The Jedi, Eddie Gaven is still widely under-appreciated outside of Columbus. He clocks in, puts in his work, clocks out, and goes home without complaint having performed his duties admirably.

Dominic Oduro = Lando Calrissian

No, I’m not trying to be racist!

Lando is pretty much the only Star Wars character with true swagger (other than Bib Fortuna) and Oduro is easily the flashiest player on this Columbus team. Just as Lando spent a very brief amount of time working for the enemy, Oduro joins Columbus after spending the last two seasons with Ch*cago F*re. Best be careful or the self proclaimed “Freaky Fast” will try to steal your Princess Leia.

Chad Marshall = Obi Wan Kenobi

Just as the grizzled Kenobi was the ideal man to represent the Jedi Order, Chad Marshall is Columbus Crew manifested in human form. And just as Obi-Wan was Princess Leia’s only hope, Marshall is the only hope for Columbus’s backline this season.

Robert Warzycha = C-3PO

Annoying and way more trouble than he’s worth, the Polish Rifle is always trying to tell us the odds and how he knows better than us. He’s also constantly getting in the way and the 2013 Crew will half to win in spite of him to make the playoffs.

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.


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.