An examination of what Columbus may need to achieve to get back to this podium in 2013 and beyond.
3.26.2013: The Battle Away From Mediocrity, And Towards Greatness (3 Pts)
Ever since the Columbus Crew hoisted the MLS Cup trophy in late November of 08', with the team surrounding their three wise, talisman (with flowing locks); Frankie Hejduk, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and Gino Padula.. And Alejandro Moreno, Brian Carroll, and Eddie Gaven contributed great moments and smiles.
The Crew have been mediocre.
They have not been great, but they have not been bad.
Columbus has neither matched the futility of 2005 to 2007, nor has Columbus matched the level of brilliance either of 2008.
Since then Columbus has been better than okay; but, has lacked perhaps the cliched team identity or overall sense of purpose.
They have lacked the strength to make Columbus as tough as a place to play as it once was, but also have lacked the concentration to claw out wins away from Columbus as well. And most importantly, have lacked any sign of life in the playoffs.
But, the Crew have also continued to be strong at home under Rober Warzycha and have continued to be a playoff contender.
The Crew came out galloping in 2009, under first-year manager (long-time assistant) Warzycha; but then plummeted the second-half of the season, holding onto a Supporters Shield by a whisker, and then blundered in the playoffs.
There was an air of disappointment (as might be the case with almost anything that followed 2008), despite the added hardware .. But, that needs to be taken into account with everything before and after; as most Crew fans would've been joyful for a Supporters Shield in 2007.
It should be taken into account as well that Schmid had his low years in Columbus before succeeding in 2008.
Since that first season in charge, Robert Warzycha's Columbus Crew (2009-2013) has at times played exciting, and at times have packed it in, and have had dull (but tough wins on the road).
Warzycha has done enough (56-32-39 overall), playoffs 3 out of 4 seasons, for a small market club.
Done enough that Crew fans on Bigsoccer can put behind them the Fire Warzycha threads and perhaps rally around their manager in 2013.
But, he should do more to cement his position with the club, and will he do more in 2013?
Here's (3 pts) that could get the Crew back to greatness in 2013 (and beyond):
1.) Build A Core That Could Be Here In 2013 (And For Years To Come)
The Columbus Crew have done a good job at buying players (and keeping players) lately that will be capable of performing well for Columbus and content with staying with Columbus for years to come; either for career stability, a second chance at a starting role in MLS, a situation where they can be happy with their soccer, or fulfilling a dream of playing for your hometown club.
Eddie Gaven, Chad Marshall, Danny O'Rourke, and Andy Greunebaum have stayed with Columbus for years, and can continue to be here for years because they have career stability with Columbus.. Why go to a NYRB where you'll be valued less, or overseas where you can sit on a subs bench and might not get a chance? Columbus has become their home, or for some players like O'Rourke, Speas, Trapp, and Barson has always been.
Other players that have found themselves undervalued with different clubs in MLS, have reinvigorated themselves with Columbus in 2013.
Tyson Wahl has started all four games and has an assist in 2013 with Columbus, and Dominic Oduro has also started all four and has a goal. Total the duo started 36 games last season, if things stay true to form for them in 2013 they could have 68 between them. Keeping both beyond this year would be nice if that becomes the case.
In another category, internationals that have had some success overseas, but have come to Columbus and (maybe because of less pressure) have enjoyed their soccer more and have performed better, would find it hard to leave again and go back to less productivity and goals in their home country. Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain would fit into this mold.
Hometown signings also would probably like to have some success with Columbus before going anywhere else.
Speas has been a revelation; looking solid in his 3 games that he has started in 2013, scoring a game winner this past weekend against D.C.; Others such as Wil Trapp, Chad Barson, and Matt Lampson might play a future role down the road.
Finally, new internationals like Viana and Glauber (and perhaps Sanchez) have to be a success and stay here a while. Viana has had the easiest transition and has been the biggest surprise. But, overall Columbus can't cycle in 5 new internationals every off-season and hope to be a success.
That goes for all the above categories.
If Warzycha wants to win trophies this year and for years to come, he is going to have to keep a 16 to 20 player core here, every season, that is good enough to perform well for Columbus, if he can help it..
There will always be a few new faces, but let's keep it to every off-season via the draft and maybe a new international every once in a while to get the fans stirring.
2.) Play Front-Foot Forward Not Only At Home, But On The Road
I like how Columbus possessed and controlled most of the game at D.C. United.
I also like how Warzycha was cracking jokes and enjoying the team huddle with the Crew players, before they ran out on the field.
Saturday for Columbus was a very confident performance where they stated, "you know, we think we can out possess and take the game to you, on your home field."
Warzycha has won in the past on the road, with more of a bunker mentality. For example, last season against Seattle. And at times might not be able to avoid that approach entirely.
But, I like when Columbus plays more carefree and pushes up, because their defense may be good enough now to compensate.
Also, our defense is very tall and when Williams, Wahl, Marshall, Glauber, Oduro, etc. get into the attack and are running into the box in a dead ball stituation, I think to myself almost every time, someone is going to get on the end of this; Especially got that feeling against D.C. United.
And it seems to be the case so far, and eventually it may lead to one set piece goal a game (it has been the case in 3 out of 4 games in 2013).
The more goals from set pieces, the farther Columbus will climb in 2013. The more that the offense will go back and play defense, the farther they will climb. The more they move as a unit, the farther they will climb.
And the ability on the road (like against Chivas and D.C. United) to take the game to them and get the 3 points, the farther the Crew will go up the standings; the farther they will go in the playoffs.
This team should be good enough possession-wise to take risks not only at home, but on the road. Sure, it perhaps isn't and can't be for a full 90, but controlling most of the tempo and possession seems to be a capability of Columbus now (hopefully).
3.) Win At Home, All The Time Has To Continue, Improve
Winning at home, all the time was a source of pride for the 2008 MLS Cup winners, that they could not lose at home.
And then the fans (The Nordecke especially) built off of that, and attempted to make it an intimidating place every week.
This continued into 2009 with 9 wins, 4 draws, and 1 loss at home.
But, an ever revolving door, that wasn't as aware of what it means to play for Columbus and to win at home, and more restrictions in the Nordecke I believe have been a two part combo that has changed the difficulty level of winning at CCS (from impossible to depends on everyone's mood).
Now Columbus hasn't been bad at home lately, but rather quite the contrary; as since 2008, the Columbus Crew have been one of the best team's overall at home at 47-16-12.
10-2-2 in 2008
9-4-1 in 2009
9-2-3 in 2010
9-5-3 in 2011 and
10-3-3 in 2012
The most points they left on the board at home were in 2011, tying 5 and losing 3 (19 points lost), but winning 9 (27 gained). They tied 3 last year and lost 3 (15 lost), but won 10 (30 points gained).
The Crew in 2013 have one draw at home against San Jose, they need to keep a solid record at home in 2013 starting with the Philadelphia Union on April 6th, and translate that more to a solid routine on the road.
So far, on the road, in 2013 it has been good for Columbus. The Crew have 2 wins on the road out of 3 games, last year they only had 4 total wins on the road.
Therefore, overall, if Columbus can emphasize getting maximum points at home and improving their away performances (by taking it to teams they think they can take it to on the road) big things may be in store in 2013.
And beyond, if Columbus can keep a core of players, playing good, in black and yellow.