Wynalda: Every game matters
the second tiebreaker). So, I guess one could argue the fact that this week's game against D.C. really doesn't matter.
But if I were the coach of one of these two teams, at this point in the season, I would be pretty sick of these games that seemingly don't matter because they all add up. I think it's fairly clear that when situations like this arise that every game matters.
To change gears a little bit and address the Columbus Crew, what do you do if you're Greg Andrulis? Do you rest players? Do you get younger players like Danny Szetela some more experience by resting some of the team's more experienced players and increasing his responsibilities? Or do you stay on course, play your guys, keep continuity and extend your unbeaten record? It's weird, but this is a tough spot for Andrulis, who is obviously this year's Coach of the Year ... for the regular season.
Keeping continuity and maintaining momentum is a hard enough thing to do for three or four weeks, which is all you need in the playoffs. And there has to be a sense of hesitation in Andrulis's thinking to tinker with a winning team. If it backfires, and they don't perform in the playoffs after he rests his players, he'll be blamed. But he has to do it.
Even with the No. 1 seed in hand, this is the point in the season where Andrulis really gets tested. It is not a mistake to rest certain players. Ross Paule's situation is obvious -- recovering from a concussion is something you don't mess with. But he's an experienced player and will have no problems reintegrating into the team and picking up where they left off. Robin Fraser is a guy who is probably looking forward to a little rest. And I would entertain the idea of Jon Busch taking a seat because you never know what might happen in the playoffs. The last thing they need is a goalkeeper who has to come into a match cold and hasn't played for six months. And if there are specific injuries -- Kyle Martino and Simon Elliott (Achilles) -- then these are also conversations and decisions that will show Andrulis' worth as a manager.
For me, what the Columbus Crew have accomplished this year has been an amazing feat. I said at the beginning of the year that I was very curious to see how Andrulis would manage the most talented team in Major League Soccer, and he got off to a very rocky start. I'm not going to give Andrulis all of the credit for the turnaround, but he did do several things necessary for success in this league: he let his players play, and he let them be the stars, and he let them play to their strengths. He kept his team happy and healthy, and he made tough decisions -- like sitting Jeff Cunningham and moving Kyle Martino up front -- which impresses me.
I would also offer one piece of insight that has never been mentioned. When Columbus came stumbling out of the blocks with a Brian McBride-less team, there were many who felt that they couldn't do it without him. But with guys like Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham, Kyle Martino and now Tony Sanneh, I think it's pretty safe to say these guys just needed to find their stride, because these are the horses that win and lose games. Since I'm quoting movies these days, the Columbus Crew, much like the horse Seabiscuit, just needed to learn how to be a horse again. So let's give credit to Andrulis for recognizing that and letting it happen, as opposed to trying to make it happen.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.