View from the cheap seats: Motley Crew

a mode of communication usually reserved for situations when bodily harm is a definite possibility, like breaking up with girls from Texas. My barrage has him nervous. I bet Lalas wants to write about the Crew, he conjectures nervously to his wife, Diana. If I don't get back to him until late on Thursday, he'll miss his deadline and will have to write about something else.

I don't blame Maisonneuve, really. After all, he plays for the Crew. If I played for them right now, I wouldn't want to talk to me, either - and I'm a bigger publicity whore than J.Lo.

But Mais and I go back many years. Full disclosure: We played against each other as 10-year-olds, with each other as teens, and again against each other in MLS. We both sport scars over our left eyes where we bashed heads during an inter-squad scrimmage in Livonia, Mich. (We were on the same team, for God's sake!) His head is telling him to dodge me, but his heart is telling him he can't.

So even though he knows what's coming, he picks up the phone.

"We're 0-3," he states. Nice preemptive strike. "It's been pretty miserable. But you gotta always stand up for your teammates, you know. To the media, you've got to stand up. They're your teammates, after all."

In this era of fear and finger-pointing, writing op-ed columns means hammering everyone and everything. Rarely do you talk about the good stuff because good stuff doesn't sell. Trust me, though, it's tough to sit in the cheap seats and criticize hard-working, loyal, stand-up guys who say things like, "They're your teammates, after all."

Don't get me wrong. Critics have their place. They need to speak aloud what is whispered in the locker rooms. Otherwise, no one would pay the price for failure. Otherwise, the league would still be signing useless Mexican pains-in-the-butt (Campos, Hermosillo, Hernandez) instead of Fabian Taylors and Amado Guevaras. Otherwise, Firehouse would still be making records.

So let's just lay the cards down: The Crew are awful. That's being kind. They're 0-3 only because it's impossible to post a result worse than a loss. (Think about how much fun this league would be if we instituted a third result: three points for a win, zero for a loss, and minus-1 for a "butt-kicking.") They've scored one goal -- and that ricocheted off the head of a fullback. They've hit the net only 12 times. Crew field players show up in the Top 10 of ... get this: blocked shots, offsides, corner kicks, fouls suffered and red cards. I'm sure those will help come contract-negotiation time.

Stats tell only half the story. More subjectively but no less ugly: This year's Crew is disorganized, disheartened, and generally dissed by every MLS writer, pundit, insider and fan. This team is holding open tryouts next weekend.

They play the kind of "kick-and-run" strategy I remember from under-10s, and with Brian McBride gone to Fulham, there's no legitimate target man anymore, just Jeff Cunningham. If you're pinning your goal-scoring hopes on the likes of Cunningham, you really are a glorified college team, as one of my colleagues branded the Crew. There's a pool among some of us about who will be fired first, Crew coach Greg Andrulis or Rapids coach Tim Hankinson. Strangely, considering the Crew are 0-3 and the 'Pids are undefeated (for now), Hankinson is still the running favorite. So Andrulis has that going for him. Which is nice.

"It's hard to put your finger on one thing to explain it," Maisonneuve says. "This season, we're an almost entirely new team. What, 11 new faces? We're not scoring goals. When you're not scoring goals, you need to be organized. With all the new players, that's hard. We have to be a little bit more strict, get our roles defined. It's very frustrating, especially when you look down the roster and see the talent. Honestly, I think we have the talent to win MLS Cup."

Huh? I love you, Mais, but, um, maybe you've taken a few too many head balls. Win MLS Cup? Not with Eric Denton gifting opponents PKs like the one last Saturday at L.A.

But that's what I love about the Midwest: Everyone's eternally optimistic. (In New York, this Crew team would be putting out hits on media members by now.) The Crew guys aren't worried. "We just haven't found our rhythm yet," Mais explains. And midfielder Kyle Martino wrote earlier this week on his TheCrew.com diary:

"The trip out west was fun. It's always fun to go to L.A. ... The loss in L.A. leaves us winless on the season, but I don't think we're that worried at all."

Of course, L.A. is fun! It's filled with the top 5 percent of beautiful women in the world, the sun always shines, and Nikki Sixx lives there. But, Kyle, my boy, you were out there for work, not fun. Soccer is your livelihood now, not just a good pick-up line. (Perhaps Kyle's laissez-faire attitude has something to do with his failure to make an impression on national team head coach Bruce Arena. Just a thought.)

And yet ... and yet ... lest we forget, this league is as arbitrary as the stock market. It's built for parity, so momentum swings more often than Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro. Remember the 2002 New England Revolution? Arguably the worst team in MLS history until Steve Nicol circled the wagons and "Shotgun" Taylor Twellman (I'm hooked on HBO's "Deadwood") led them on that late-season rampage. Or, how about the Kansas City Wizards, who dwelt in the cellar in 1999, then won MLS Cup in 2000?

That's not to say that the Crew will win MLS Cup. They won't. Andrulis should be fired, if he's not the solution to their woes. They need to find themselves a better scoring option than Cunningham. And, no, the midfield is just not up to snuff.

I'm just reiterating what I've said a thousand times: Things are wonderfully wacky in this league, so you never know what might happen.

Toward the end of our interview, I ask Mais how it felt to miss the playoffs last season. "I was heart-broken," he says. "I was embarrassed. I thought, 'I could've done more.' Everyone thought the same thing."

For Mais's sake and the sake of all the underserved Crew fans, I hope everyone out there in Columbus is again thinking about what more they can do.

***

After all that, I have to handicap the Dallas-Columbus game. Since I keep losing because my mortal locks keep tying, I'm going with a draw this week.

Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its teams.


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