Sunday, August 4, 2013

CREW VIEW: Fall from grace

Numbers don't lie

THERE are times when X's and O's analysis of a singular match don't do justice to the big picture.
This is one of those occasions where just presenting the facts and letting readers draw their own conclusions is paramount, so here they are:

After beating Philadelphia on Aug 20, 2011, the Columbus Crew was feeling darn good about the direction of the franchise. With a 11-7-7 record, the 40 points were good enough for first in the Eastern Conference, six points ahead of the Union.
The players, staff, management and fans had no way of knowing then that the being on the summit would lead to a backslide that has continued for nearly two full years. It began a week after the win over Philly when the Crew went to Seattle and was humbled 6-2.

Starting with that match against the Sounders, the Crew has played 65 regular-season games, including Saturday's 3-1 loss at Houston, and won just over a third of them (23-29-13). The Crew also lost its one playoff game in 2011 to Colorado to cap 2-7-1 stretch to finish the year.

To be fair, it hasn't been all doom and gloom for the past 24 months because, yes, the Crew did have a winning record last year (15-12-7) and is the only team in MLS to play .500 or better every season since the start of 2008; although with the current 6-11-5 mark that streak is likely to end. (Seattle has posted a winning mark each season since debuting in 2009).

There are many franchises (paging D.C. United, Toronto FC and Chivas USA) who'd love to have anything near the wins accumulated by the Crew over the past five-plus seasons. But expectations in Columbus are massive and the perception is that 2012 was a lost cause because the Crew did not make the playoffs and spent most of the season being a below average team.

Adding to the sense among loyalists that the team is in a spiral is that the much of the success over the past two years came and went quickly. Take out an 18-day span from Aug. 15-Sept. 1, 2012, when the Crew went 4-0-2 and the club has a 19-29-11 mark for the other 59 matches.

So, other than a brief resurgence in the aftermath of the death of rookie midfielder Kirk Urso followed by the Aug. 19 debut of Federico Higuain, Crew supporters have seen far more lows than highs on the field.

And speaking of Higuain, the arrival of the Designated Player from Argentina provided an immediate but ultimately unsustainable boost.

In his 35 games the Crew is 13-16-6, and that's with four wins and a tie in his first five appearances. Since that sizzling start the team is 9-16-5 in 30 games. No wonder angst bathes his face following most every match.

A few final numbers to ponder. The Crew is 10 points out of the last postseason spot and have just 12 matches to make up the difference. It's going to take a prolonged winning streak to avoid the first consecutive seasons out of the playoffs since the 2005-07 era but that will not be easy:

Through 22 matches the Crew has yet to win back-to-back games. No Crew team has failed to win at least two in row in a season since its inception in 1996.

Since you didn't ask

NOW that Anthony Precourt has had a few days to digest his purchase of the Crew and Crew Stadium I'm sure he's eager for suggestions on how to spend some of the whatever millions of dollars he has lying around. ( A classy move, by the way, of former owners Hunt Sports Group to buy a full-page ad in Sunday's Columbus Dispatch to thank the fans but, then again, you'd expect nothing less from the Hunts).

* It wouldn't hurt to occasionally get the team out of a traveling predicament by chartering a flight, especially if and when the Crew returns to CONCACAF Champions League play and has to make arrangements to and from Mexico and Central America during a packed MLS schedule. Players talk and those who are lucky enough to have choices of where they play know who's going to take care of them.

* Get together with Fox Sport Ohio and pay for the extra time if necessary in order to extend the match broadcast slot. Fans in Columbus have come to expect 30-minute shows before and after Blue Jackets' games. That's what major league teams do. It doesn't have to be an additional hour but adding 30 minutes to the normal two-hour block for some pre- and post-game chatter would be appreciated.

* I know, Mr. Precourt, that your first match at Crew Stadium was April 27 when the speaker cabinets in the scoreboard caught fire. If - a very big if - you are planning to stay at Crew Stadium for the foreseeable future could you see to it that a video board from this century be in the plans? And if you're thinking big, how about going massive with one that is shaped in the great state of Ohio that can stand as a landmark for the millions of drivers up and down I-71? I think Ohio State would be jealous.

* Here's a cheap fix needing a few gallons of paint. The visiting locker at Crew Stadium with its white walls and tiles is barebones and sterile compared to those in newer facilities. It's already among the least favorite in the league. Why not making it even more unwelcoming? Everything from the floor to the ceiling should match the black lockers to create a claustrophobic feeling. You could add a gold border or the Crew logo on the wall, anything as a reminder of where they are and who they are about to play.

* Finally, on a more serious note. Lamar Hunt was a humble man who didn't take to the limelight and his sons followed in his footsteps. That's why even after his death in December 2006 they resisted calls to put his name on the stadium that he built.

Now that Precourt Sports Ventures is in charge the first action should be - with the Hunt's blessing - to quickly make a simple gesture that won’t affect future naming rights but still honor an American sports icon: Lamar Hunt Field at Crew Stadium
Come on down!

WHILE most Crew fans were busy fretting over the Crew's numerous missed chances at Houston, the Seattle Sounders were welcoming their newest player.

Of course, a simple introduction in front of 40,000 fans at CenturyLink Field wouldn’t do. The tension could be cut with a plastic knife as U.S. National Team star Clint Dempsey stood at midfield in a Belichick Collection hoodie, waiting to announce which MLS team he was about to join.
As he unzipped the sweatshirt to reveal a Sounders jersey I was absolutely stunned like everyone else. I mean, it was such a secret. Boy, was I fooled. I thought right up to last the last second he was headed to Columbus.

The production got me thinking about the synergy of reality TV and adding drama to every MLS match.

From now on when a substitution is about to be made, all available players should line up by the fourth official in hoodies as fans text vote who they think has been selected. With much fanfare the intended choice of the coach will then discard his top to unveil his game jersey before taking the field.

It could be part of a new marketing campaign: MLS, come for the theatrics. Stay for the soccer.