End of An Era in Columbus

An era is officially over. Even if you thought that the Crew’s new look had started a couple months ago when Precourt Sports Ventures bought the club from the Hunt family, there can be no doubts now. Robert Warzcyha was sacked on Monday after 18 years, in some sort of capacity, with the club. He took over a team in 2009 that had won the Supporters Shield and the MLS Cup in previous years, and was looking like a team that could have staying power atop the MLS Power Rankings for years to come. Unfortunately for the Pole, he never really got the team back to those heights, and the team was falling steadily towards obscurity at the time of his sacking. His firing was met with a lot of bittersweet feelings from a majority of Crew fans who were sad to see such a familiar club figure go, but hopeful about a possible Crew renaissance.

Anthony Precourt bought the club 1 and a half months ago with the intentions of making the team a perennial power once more, and this is probably the first step in his plan. He needs to be able to bring in his own people who are willing to work with his own vision, and Robert Warzcycha didn’t fit that description.  Blaming every single weakness of this current team on Warzycha is extremely harsh given the lack of funds available to him and the amount of crucial injuries sustained, but It has been clear for a while that the team needs to change directions. The squad needs to be progressing, not regressing, and it didn’t look like that was possible anymore under Warzycha. Assistant coach Brian Bliss has taken over on an interim basis for the time being, and Precourt has proclaimed that he will be thorough in his evaluation of any potential Warzycha replacement.

In the first game since the big news, the Crew hosted the Houston Dynamo in a mid-week matchup.  As the teams stepped out onto the Crew Stadium pitch, fans in the Nordecke section of the crowd held up signs proclaiming “Hope” with pictures of the great Argentine Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Bliss had been exclaiming the need to press higher up the pitch, and to work as a team to get the ball back after losing possession. There was definitely a palpable air of optimism coming into the game, but also a sense of patience.  The long climb back up to the MLS elite is hardly going to be a fast one, and the fans know this. Tactically, Bliss was without Higuain due to suspension, and decided to continue with Ryan Finley up front Instead of the available Jairo Arrieta. Dominic Oduro also played up top which meant a spot on the right side of the midfield for the energetic Ethan Finlay.

The game started out very open but not in a good way for the Columbus Crew. Will Bruin was through on goal 3 separate times in the opening 11 minutes, but wasn’t able to finish any of them. The 1st minute produced a wonderful goal line clearance from Crew left back Chad Barson, and the other two chances were shot wide from the Dynamo forward. Bruin is very low on confidence at the moment, but his movement and touch to get into position were an early worry for the Crew defense. There seemed to be a concerted effort to stay away from Chad Marshall and focus on isolating Eric Gehrig. Gehrig Is already a really good center back, but his inexperience is something that can only improve with game time. The second half however, was all Columbus. A beautiful pass from Bernardo Anor set up Justin Meram in the Dynamo box right after halftime, and his pass found an open Ryan Finley who finished with aplomb. It was Finley’s first professional goal, and his celebration into the first row of the Nordecke showed that it meant a lot to the Notre Dame graduate.  Soon afterwards, the Crew was given a penalty for a pretty dubious shirt pull on Oduro. After some argument over who would take the resulting spot kick, Finley, full of confidence after his goal, stepped up, but had his tame effort saved by Tally Hall. The penalty miss didn’t faze the Crew, and they continued to mount attack after attack. Meram hit the bar and Marshall had a header saved off the line.  Finally in the 74th minute, a pull back from Oduro found Meram at the top of the box. His quick feet left the Dynamo defender completely off balance, and Justin was able to find the back of the net to seal the Columbus win. I have to pause and give some credit to Justin Meram. I haven’t been his biggest fan since he arrived in Columbus, but his performance in the second half of this game was monumental.  Hopefully he uses this performance as a stepping stone to bigger and better things in the yellow of the Crew. The game ended without any further incident, and the Crew picked up its first win since August 17th.

All in all, this was a hugely positive result for the Crew. The first game under a new coach, albeit an interim one, is always tricky, but the players stepped up and proved how talented they truly are. The playoff picture is still slightly dubious, but with O’Rourke, Sanchez and Higuain set to come back into the team, the window hasn’t closed quite yet. Optimism abounds in Columbus, and the next game on Saturday in Kansas City is crucial.

About Dustyn Richardson

Managing editor and Houston Dynamo writer for Total-MLS. Fan of all Houston sports teams and Manchester United supporter. Still angry at Bud Selig for moving the Astros to the American League.