While the announcement of the retirement of defender Robin Fraser took center stage, the Columbus Crew also reached out to their fan base Wednesday night at Columbus Crew Stadium through a fan forum where fans peppered management, coaches and players with questions about the organization and the upcoming season.
A standing-room-only crowd at the Huntington Club in the stadium had the chance to ask questions of investor/operator Clark Hunt, general manager Mark McCullers, head coach Sigi Schmid and players Frankie Hejduk, Edson Buddle and Eric Vasquez.
"We are definitely pleased [with the turnout]. We did an excellent job promoting this event and getting the word out," said McCullers. "Getting Clark in from Dallas is something I would like to do more often. Clark plays a significant role on the league level in terms of the machinery of this league."
Fans voiced questions and concern on a wide variety of issues including player personnel moves, the quality of players and officiating in MLS, and scheduling.
While the Crew were rather quiet about player movements at this time, Schmid pointed out that acquiring a running mate for striker Buddle is one his top priorities.
In terms of the on-field product, Hunt said progress in officiating has occurred over the league history -- if only in small steps. He noted that obtaining consistency is made difficult since the U.S. Soccer Federation administers the referees and then provides them to the league, though there is collaboration between the two.
As for developing talent for the league, Schmid thinks youth leagues that limit players from playing against older opponents and coaches that restrict players to one position are stunting growth of youth players.
One topic that caught McCullers slightly off guard was about declining attendance in Columbus.
"I was surprised the attendance question was asked. That is a complicated issue," said McCullers. "I wish I had an hour to sit down and tell them everything we are trying to do. You just can't answer that in five minutes."
Fans also expressed interest in scheduling. The Crew has opened the season at home several years in a row despite a history of inclement weather in early April. Although scheduling meetings are occurring in Texas this weekend, McCullers indicated the Crew would likely begin the season on the road. He added that he would have rather have a midweek buck-a-brat night in the summer than an early April home match.
The organization deemed the forum successful in continuing to develop communication between the club and its fan base, even if they ask some difficult questions.
"I want those questions to come out. It is one of the benefits of doing this," said McCullers. "We are a whole lot better off in communicating with our fans and giving them some insight in what we are trying to do with the difficult issues."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.