Friday, March 31, 2006

MLS, er...I mean Columbus Crew Preview

Like Jim over at 11 am Air Raid I had planned to do a full MLS preview. And, like Jim unfortunately, life got in the way for me. So I am just gonna talk a little bit about America's Premier Sports Franchise, Columbus Crew

Last year was the hardest year I remember being a fan of Columbus. We were coming off a season in which we won the Supporters Shield for having the most points at the end of the regular season, only to piss it away in the playoffs. Of course, many of us thought, myself included, that success was still just around the corner. Instead 2005 turned out to be the worst year in Columbus Crew history. They finished only above two expansion teams, and barely at that. In fact they lost to one of them towards the end of the season. Greg Andrulis, the man who somehow had coached Columbus to the Supporter's Shield the year prior and the US Open Cup Championship before that was shown to be in way over his head and was finally fired, about 20 games too late. Crew Legend, Robert Warzycha filled in admirably as an interim coach towards the end of the season, but then this offseason America's Premier Sports Franchise got the coach they have deserved for a while, Sigi Schmid.

The impressive new Columbus Crew beat writer for the Dispatch, Shawn Mitchell, has a story on Sigi here. Sigi has come in and installed a winning attitude to this team already. Goalkeeper Jon Busch has come out and said if you don't believe the team is fighting for a championship this season, you are in the wrong lockeroom. The roster has been completely overhauled and you can get profiles of the goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and forwards from Shawn.

The defense looks to be the strength of the team. Busch is the best goalkeeper in America not fighting for a World Cup spot. He is coming off injury, but should anchor a defense with a few new faces and star in waiting Chad Marshall. The forwards? I have no idea what to expect. Buddle was our only proven goal scorer and as I wrote earlier in the week, we traded him. Eddie Gaven will be thrown in at forward and likely partner either rookie Kei Kamara, or Jason Garey. We are counting on a 19 year old kid and two rookies up top. Ugh. We are deep at forward, but none of John Wolyniec, Knox Cameron, or Ivan Becarra strike fear in defenders and rightfully so.

The season will come down, as impressive beat writer Shawn Mitchell states, to the midfield. With no proven hitters up top, we will need goals galore from the midfield. For the 2nd season in a row Kyle Martino faces a "make or break" season, but this time you get the feeling if he doesn't live up to expectations the coach will send him elsewhere. No free rides under Sigi.

I will be honest, I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Despite Columbus Crew being the most popular and well supported sports franchise in this hemisphere preseason scrimmages were not televised as Sigi has been keeping his cards close to the vest. Saturday night, though, the cards are on the table. I have not been this excited for a start of a MLS season in ages. Sigi has brought a level of optimism and belief that may have existed before in foolish cats like me, but wasn't really justified. Under Sigi, you just know, if not Saturday, then very soon this team will be playing some of the best soccer in the league. No, the WORLD.

It's just around the corner, and I can not wait.

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