Columbus Crew 2012
2012 record: 15-12-7 (52 points); 44 GF / 44 GA (0 GD)
There is irony in the Columbus Crew scoring 44 goals and allowing the same number because, apart from a stretch in late August, the team was never balanced.
Early in the season, they had an airtight defense that barely conceded a goal per match, yet the lack of offense prevented the Crew from reaching a playoff position.
Once forwards Jairo Arrieta, who debuted in July, and Federico Higuaín, who made his first appearance on Aug. 19, started clicking the team featured one of the most feared attacks in MLS, but the defense sprang a leak and for the first time in team history the Crew did not qualify for the playoffs despite a winning record (15-12-7).
The season was punctuated from the beginning with an inordinate amount of injuries, and two players (goalkeeper William Hesmer and forward Tommy Heinemann) suffered season-ending injuries in March while midfielder Bernardo Añor joined the list in July.
Because of all the injuries, the Crew relied heavily on rookies. One of them, midfielder Kirk Urso from the University of North Carolina, died unexpectedly from a heart defect on Aug. 5 to put a pall over what would turn out to be a season to forget in many regards.
Best Moment of the Year
There was a range of emotions the night of Aug. 15 as the Crew paid tribute to Urso in their first match since his death. The atmosphere in Crew Stadium was somber during the pregame tribute and moving when "Amazing Grace" was played on bagpipes in the 15th minute to represent the fallen player's number.
The team channeled their grief into a 1-1 tie with the LA Galaxy and, more importantly, Higuaín arrived in Columbus from Argentina a few hours before the match following his signing on July 27. Although he didn't play that night, he would soon provide the psychological boost the shaken franchise needed.
2012 Club by Club
New England Revolution
New York Red Bulls
Real Salt Lake
San Jose Earthquakes
Sporting Kansas City
Worst Moment of the Year
Obviously, nothing compares to Urso's passing. On the field, though, a 3-2 loss at D.C. United coupled with Houston's win over Philadelphia ended their attempt to push the playoff race to the final weekend and rendered the Crew's last match meaningless.
As was the case in their previous two road games, Columbus went ahead by the 10th minute but failed to garner even a point.
It's rare that a play drawn up in practice goes exactly as planned during a game, but that was the case May 12 when defender Sebastián Miranda provided the winner against FC Dallas in the 72nd minute.
That allowed Miranda, who had not scored in his previous 42 Crew matches, to drift unmarked just outside the top of the penalty area. He snapped a header that stunned everybody.
Andy Gruenebaum, the goalkeeper Crew fans thought should have been with the MLS All-Stars as they faced Chelsea three days earlier, outdueled the starter in that match – Jimmy Nielsen – on July 28 as Columbus defeated host Sporting Kansas City 2-1.
Gruenebaum made five saves and none were more critical than the back-to-back stops of Teal Bunbury to preserve the lead after breakaway in the 55th minute.
Gruenebaum had appeared in only 26 regular-season matches for the Crew since 2006 but when William Hesmer went down with a season-ending hip injury prior to the start of the season, he responded with a 1.26 goals-against average, eight shutouts and a league-best 124 saves.
His stellar play for the goal-starved team early in the season was the only reason the Crew were in position at the end to challenge for the playoffs.
MLS named Higuaín the league's Newcomer of the Year and no one in Crewville will take exception. The Argentinean had five goals and seven assists in only 13 games and made Columbus dangerous on every free kick within 40 yards.
Plus, he made everyone around him better, including Eddie Gaven, who scored a career-high nine goals.
— This season recap by Craig Merz was originally featured on MLSsoccer.com on December 12, 2012.