COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Crew’s recent run of comebacks and late-game heroics has an awfully familiar feel to it, reminding many of the resilience shown by the team that won the MLS Cup four years ago.
The fact that the current 4-1-2 surge, which has lifted the Crew into fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, is fueled in good measure by the arrival of forward Federico Higuaín, an Argentine playmaker like 2008 MLS MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto, only furthers the comparison.
Higuaín has been instrumental in the team's run, tallying three goals and six assists in six games and was particularly dangerous (three goals, five assists) during a four-game winning streak before being stymied in the 2-0 loss at New England on Wednesday.
However, Higuaín’s play reminds Columbus coach Robert Warzycha not so much of Schelotto's form in 2008, where the Crew won the Supporters' Shield by six points, but instead another late-season acquisition, way back in 1996, also sparked an immediate revival from the doldrums of a seemingly lost season.
“He’s had the biggest impact since [Brad] Friedel, definitely,” Warzycha said, in reference to the former US national team goalkeeper.
Warzycha should know. He was a midfielder on the inaugural Crew team when they underwent a coaching change with 10 games left in the season, finding themselves six points behind New England in the playoff race, with the Revs also holding two games in hand.
Yet under late head coach Tom Fitzgerald, the Crew went 9-1 down the stretch to beat the Revolution to a playoff berth. And though the coaching change certainly helped, the stat line for Friedel spoke for itself: After coming into the lineup late on in the season, the then 25-year-old went 8-1 with a 0.78 goals-against average and four shutouts.
“Back in 1996, we were in worse position than now,” Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com this week. “We didn’t have games in hand and we had to win nine of 10 games, actually all 10, depending on what other teams did.”
The parallels from 16 years ago are strikingly similar, though the Crew will eventually hope the 2012 season ends up more like 2008 than 1996 where, despite their strong stretch run, they suffered a first-round elimination. They can, however, feel safe knowing that in Warzycha they have a man who's been through it all.