Sunday, September 27, 2009

9/28/09: Is Warzycha A Tactical Genius? A Resume, A Grit, And A September Schedule Says It All

There is no man more Columbus Crew than Robert Warzycha. And, the guy can flat out coach. 3-1-1 in 13 days against some of MLS's and Concacaf's top talent. One can only hope that he stays the Crew's head coach for a long while. From a Mitchell 2007 article on the Warzycha family, "The way Columbus reached out to them was wonderful, and they're giving back now." No doubt about that for Robert.

Sometimes a resume should speak for itself. Robert Warzycha has played in Poland, Hungary, and in England with Everton. In England with Everton he was considered by life long Everton man Gordon Watson as, "among the most talented wide-men to have played for [Everton] in the post-war years." Gordon, by post war means World War II! Watson was an Everton player for 15 years from 1933 to 1948, who was forced into retirement after a game against Burnley in 1948, and stayed at the club until his death in 2001 as a barmaid, steward, and stadium guide. A guy whose closest ascent to the top of the front office ladder was stadium guide has no reason to fib. Further, with just 68 even years of service with one club, he should know. Warzycha made a non-overwhelming yet solid 82 appearances(26 as a sub) for Everton over three years netting 6 goals. Either way, a lot about Robert's play impressed Mr. Watson during Robert's 58 to 61st years at Mr. Watson's club.

Robert Warzycha also played forty-seven times for Poland, including this qualifier against Holland in 1994, scoring seven goals. Warzycha then took his game across the ocean to the Columbus Crew, where from 1996-2002 he appeared in 160 leagues games, still holding the assist record for the Crew with 61. After his last game in 2002, Warzycha became the Crew's assistant coach until 2005 where he took over as interim head coach leading a questionably talented assembly of Crew players (with an offense led by names- that would probably give 75% percent of those in the Nordecke today blank stares- such as Eric Vasquez, Jamal Sutton, and Knox Cameron) to a winning record the second half of the season. Warzycha made a 4-10-2 Andrulis team and made them 7-6-3 the rest of the way, including an impressive 4-4-2 mark on the road. Despite this, in the 2006 season, Robert was surpassed for the head coaching job in favor of German-American coaching legend Sigi Schmid. Even though Warzycha's resume deserved a chance, Robert did not waiver, going back to his spot as an assistant coach. Warzycha, always unselfish and willing to do what he thought was best at the time for the organization, even said to Mitchell, "I would not have been able to argue if Sigi was hired. I told (general manager Mark McCullers): 'Look at his resume. Look what he's done.' I was happy to see him come here." Warzycha learned(although he already knew plenty) under an excellent coach in Sigi, won a championship ring coaching with him in 2008, became head coach this year, and celebrates his fourteenth year with the Crew. This type of dedication, service, and desire for stability with one team seems to run in the family. His brother Krzysztof Warzycha, now technical director with Arsenal FC's Greek academies, was a scoring legend with Greek club Panathinaikos with an outrageous 273 goals in 390 appearances in 15 years. Robert Warzycha has been with the Crew for 15 years, his brother with Panathinaikos for 14 years. A kind of work ethic that probably endears him quite profoundly with his best offensive player, at the moment, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who said recently about work, "every job is worthy of an effort and that effort has to be done whether or not you are doing what you like. It is important to be able to maintain yourself in the endorsement of your work." Sometimes you don't like being the assistant when you think you should be the head coach, or you don't like sitting on the bench when you're a legend of Boca Juniors for the last 11 years. But, you keep working, you keep your head down, and eventually good things happen.

There is a quality in people such as Mr. Watson, the Warzycha brothers, GBS, Frankie Hejduk, Duncan Oughton and others like them. A knowing. And, just overall dedication and attitude. They deserve recognition but they don't want it. Also, when the time gets tough, tough people like them don't get going, but rather dig their heels in. This is probably what helped Warzycha keep his wits about him in May without a win in seven games. With Warzycha staring at his refrigerator in the middle of the night and imploring god or Ben & Jerry for an answer. No answers were coming and he had to make a decision. Do I spiral down and make worse decisions or have faith in my decisions and that they will prevail in the end. We all have had those testing times and Warzycha has passed the test a 100 times over, including this time.

So, Warzycha's chain of defeats early in the season could have led to brash decisions and shake ups that could have led to ripples in the team, but Warzycha had faith in his players. Warzycha had faith that his attacking, his risks, his belief in players like Lenhart, Burns, and Oughton at different times would pay off, and it has. Warzycha hasn't hesitated in September from calling up his reserves and part-time starters, as a necessity to give his main starters a rest. Almost every player has played a role this season and Warzycha called it last January, "That bench is the reason we won [in 2008]. But those guys at No. 20, 21, 22 -- they're going to have to get better because they're going to be called upon. I have no problem with national team stuff. Some coaches get upset -- 'they're taking all my players.' I want them to take my players because it shows we are doing well." This season every player on Warzycha's roster has played. Most at least a game except Elenio and Emilio so far, others have played at least 3 or 4 if not more. Almost no one on that team can feel unimportant or not a part of it. Warzycha's emphasis on team, risks, and attacking soccer, has paid off since May 9th, the Crew are 14-5-4 overall in all competitions.

With Warzycha getting more risky/confident by the game(playing Burns, Oughton, Renteria, and Lenhart against LA- something Sigi probably wouldn't have done under the circumstances) and the team becoming his instead of Sigi's more by the day. I can say that no one really compares Warzycha to Sigi anymore these days, at the beginning of the season everyone was thinking how does this compare to what Sigi did? Not anymore. Warzycha has proved that he is his own man when it comes to coaching and he has proved to be one hell of a coach, especially this September. Just look at this schedule:

Against the best possible schedule against North American competition as well as Major League Soccer competition, in five games in thirteen days, Warzycha has 3 wins, 1 tie, and 1 loss. The only loss coming against Mexican powerhouse Cruz Azul. With one of the wins coming against Saprissa at their place, with a ragtag lineup of Crew starters and reserves. That win was the first of any MLS team at Saprissa (even the national team hasn't won there yet).

On Tuesday, since Warzycha rested Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Robbie Rogers, Gino Padula, and Alejandro Moreno against Los Angeles, the Crew should be able to field a competitive lineup tomorrow against Saprissa with the chance to put away that competition and qualify in second place in the group behind Cruz Azul.

Warzycha's win and tactics against LA were like a painter closing his eyes and stroking out a beautiful country meadow painting. The front office couldn't ask for more in front of 20,996 fans. With two more games left during this wild stretch, I wouldn't bet against Warzycha and company winning out against Saprissa and Seattle at home.

If they do they would be 5-1-1 against the best that MLS and CONCACAF has to offer in a literally insane 7 games in 20 days. Now, with two left, one has to like the chances. And, Warzycha (even though their on good terms) must be licking his chops at a chance against Sigi during this run's finale.

Warzycha's performance this month (and really since May) has to be cranking the necks of all in MLS. The man deserves respect for this run. He knows how to manage. We doubted him in the beginning. But, all we needed to do was some research to realize that Warzycha is someone who has seen a lot in the world of soccer and who has done a lot. A man with confidence in his ability. A man that will stick to his guns even though every result is showing that he may be wrong.

The team turned around and started buying into Warzycha's system. There isn't a better man to lead the Crew for a long, long time. If guys like Warzycha and McCullers and Bliss stay around for a long while the Crew will be in very good hands. Warzycha deserves coach of the year honors for balancing the Sigi shadow with the expectations for this team while making it his own team. He deserves it for winning at Saprissa. He deserves it for even having a .500 mark with this insane run in September. He deserves it for looking very likely to repeat as Supporters Shield winners. He is one hell of a coach.

And, who knows maybe Warzycha will have Mr. Watson's longeivity at Columbus? And, maybe Guillermo, Duncan, and Frankie will be barking orders as his assistants? One can only hope right? Were lucky as fans and as an organization to have men like this. Go Crew!


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