COLUMBUS, Ohio – When Columbus Crew head coach Robert Warzycha talks of the 2012 season, he could certainly put a positive spin on it.
After all, his team earned two more wins than in the 2011 campaign and saw two summer arrivals enthrall the crowd at Crew Stadium, all while coping with an inordinate number of injuries and the tragic passing of rookie midfielder Kirk Urso in August.
But even though the Crew posted a winning record (15-12-7, 52 points) there is one word that he will not associate with the results he has seen from his charges the past eight months.
“I don’t think you can say the season is successful because we didn’t make the playoffs, we didn’t win the Open Cup,” he said after a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC in Sunday's season finale.
Columbus finished a point back of Houston for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, missing out on a fifth straight postseason berth. It all puts the coaches and players under scrutiny for falling short at various points of the season.
“A season like this when you don’t qualify for the playoffs and things happen on the field, maybe we overlooked something [from] last year and we’re going to fix it this year for next season,” Warzycha said.
What’s frustrating for the team and their supporters is that the Crew seemed a lock to qualify after reeling off four straight wins in August and early September behind strong efforts from new Designated Player Federico Higuaín and fellow recent arrival, forward Jairo Arrieta. However, they went 3-4-1 since Sept. 5, without posting a win against a team above them in the standings.
“As a team we went through a lot with the passing of Kirk and a lot of adversity,” defender Josh Williams told MLSsoccer.com on Sunday. “I felt all that made us closer but, unfortunately, we missed the playoffs by a point. Still, it was fun battling with these guys every week.”
Knowing the season ended prematurely stings, so don’t try telling Williams there could be some consolation knowing the Crew’s 1.53 points per game is the highest in league history for a team that did not make the postseason.
“It’s nice to hear, but at the end of the day we didn’t make the playoffs,” he said. “That was our goal. It doesn’t really mean much to me. I don’t really care about it.”
Goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was philosophical when asked about Columbus finishing nine points ahead of Vancouver, the last qualifier in the Western Conference.
“Sometimes it works out that way where you put up a good number [of points] and it’s not enough in one conference where it would have been enough in another,” he said.