Columbus Crew 2007 Review: Mid-Summer Mirage

Columbus Crew
Record (W-L-T): 9-11-10; 39 GF; 44 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
Streaks are part of the game. They happen for a lot of reasons – a missing player, bad vibes begetting more bad vibes, etc. And it’s worth suggesting upfront that “bad vibes” seem to have a special attachment to the Columbus Crew, a team that with 2007 missed its third consecutive Major League Soccer (MLS) post-season. Still, for a couple mid-summer months, the Columbus had good reason to believe they would break this jinx.

That brings the discussion back to streaks: Columbus experienced something closer “spells” in 2007. For two happy months – June and July, as it happened – the Crew rose to within one point of DC United for the Eastern Conference lead. Had the players looked down from that mid-summer peak – a little Midwestern Eden, if you will – they would have sighted two blighted valleys extending on either side, where bitter losses followed throw-away draws. Consider this: after picking up a gutsy, “hell-of-a” draw against the New England Revolution on June 16, the Crew went 4-1-1 – that could be 5-1-1 if you count the win over Toronto FC after the All-Star Break. Before this happy period, however, they cooked up a stinking 1-4-6. After, they passed a messy and painful 1-6-3, before wrapping up the season with two useless wins (over good teams…go figure).

Call it a what-the-hell kind of mystery – and, here, memory plays a role. It seemed like a lot of talk during the late summer slump rested on the view that all hope centered on a healthy Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Apparently, such stories grew larger than reality because a review of the record shows Schelotto missed only the month of September. While that certainly didn’t help, it’s worth pointing out that the Argentine played every game in the Crew’s crappy August.

So…is it just bad vibes? Are the Crew doomed to lose? Sorry to Crew fans and sympathizers (like me! – and I intend to get in deeper in 2008), but that could be. As I reviewed the season’s games, a couple things caught my eye. The Crew’s defense remained pretty consistent through the year – it generally featured some combination of Frankie Hejduk, Chad Marshall (when healthy), Ezra Hendrickson, Rusty Pierce and, in a pinch, Stefani Miglioranzi. The same can’t be said for the offense, which, it’s worth noting, had trouble with timely scoring; then again, that more consistent defense had more than its share of highly Untimely – read, back-breaking, soul-crashing – lapses, gaffes that reduced wins to ties and ties to losses.

That said, it’s significant that the Crew had trouble pulling together a steady set-up in the attack. As well as this team moved the ball through midfield on multiple occasions – and they did; and as capable as Schelotto could be at unlocking a defense with a killer ball – and he was: that unsettled feeling in the front goes some way to explaining the Crew. One line from one random match report (I don’t even recall which it was) amounts to a handy recurring phrase: “the Crew struggled to put together a coherent attack.” Add in the problems on defense and those happy summer months seem more and more like a mirage.

Notable Streaks
– Cruel man that I am, I’ve already laid them out above: going 1-4-6 on one side of that 5-1-1 wunder-streak and going 3-6-3 on the other. It’s got this curious hill-esque shape that I hope I captured successfully above. My apologies to all readers for the disgusting allusion to eating and pooping.

What Went Right
Given the team, these can be quite tricky…
– Coach Sigi Schmid fared tolerably in the trade market. Obviously, he picked up Schelotto, but the Alejandro Moreno/Joseph Ngwenya trade also worked out pretty well.
– This may be a lonely position, but I sincerely think ‘07 Crew was better than the ’06 edition. Put another way, I’d give Schmid another year as well…and no more.
– Progress can be subtle, but I think it’s there. So does Eddie Gaven, if you read Nathan Linton’s season retrospective.
– I almost slipped this under “what didn’t,” but the more I think about it, it belongs here. In spite of all the gripes and worry, the Crew were solidly average in terms of goals for and against: 39 and 44, respectively.

What Didn’t
– I touched on this above, but the lack of a dominant forward, someone to not only score the goals, but the hold possession in the opposition’s half, really hurts this team. I count myself a fan of Moreno’s, but he’s no better than good – e.g. a star he ain’t.
– Getting back to the scoring, it’s a problem when your central defender (Marcos Gonzalez) scored as many goals as one of your semi-regular options at forward (Jason Garey); when each man scored only one goal, it only gets worse.
– Sticking with the scoring thing, the Crew poses the question of whether having a lot of options doesn’t confuse the business of scoring goals. (And do enjoy the pictures behind the links; no one tops the Crew for goofy profile photos – and Eddie Gaven is King for the second year running): Moreno was their leading scorer, but he dinged in only seven; “Hungry” Andy Herron had only four, Gaven only five, Robbie “Boy-Man” Rogers just three, Schelotto (who looks like a P.O.W.; what’s with the lighting?) had five – though, in his defense, he excelled as a set-up man and would have killed with better forwards.
– That last bit is kind of the point: the Crew need better forwards than Garey and the now-departed Kei Kamara; those two, together with Brad Evans, combined for an underwhelming seven goals.
– Last one, I swear: their defense absolutely killed the Crew – and more than once. Late-game heart-breakers at Kansas City on 9/15 and at Dallas on 10/6 effectively threw away the Crew’s ’07.

Key Men (as in the Ones You Want Back)
Guillermo Barros Schelotto: Pray he can make it.
Alejandro Moreno: Solid contributor; bond with Schelotto only ups his value.
Stefani Miglioranzi: Better than your average utility player – considerably so.
Eddie Gaven: I’m not done pulling for this kid; he’s weird and hard to place, but I like ‘im.
Marcos Gonzalez: He’s not perfect, but, if Marshall leaves/retires he’s vital.
Robbie Rogers: Ended very strong as I saw it. Good talent.
Will Hesmer: He’s good enough that you’d be crazy to lose him.

Anyone Who Ought to Leave (and several might)
Rusty Pierce: Competitive drive to spare, but the injuries are adding up.
Jason Garey: With all due respect, USL material.
Ezra Hendrickson: Once good, but time to hang it up.
Jacob Thomas: Oh, the injuries. I still like him, but fitness matters.
Andy Herron: Didn’t deliver.

What They’re Needin’
Though I covered a lot of this above, to everything its place:
– A good starting forward -e.g. no college kid. This is a huge need. Moreno will up his value instantly.
– Commanding, healthy central defender. A couple wingbacks wouldn’t hurt, either. For all the times I think Hejduk might be immortal, deep down I know he’s not.
– For Gaven and Rogers, as well as O’Rourke (who I almost shifted to the “ought to leave” list) to step up in midfield. Adding Brian Carroll could help, but Schelotto needs help strong enough to serve as decoys.

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One Response

  1. […] the Crew need. Again, I’ll turn to Jeff Carlisle’s ESPN piece on each MLS teams’ needs and my review of Columbus’ 2007. And, again, let’s start with Carlisle: “Crew coach Sigi Schmid is on […]

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