Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 15-12-7 (52 points); 44 GF / 44 GA (0 GD)
You could make a pretty solid argument – and I have, as have others on this website – that Robert Warzycha has done a borderline great job of rebuilding the Crew on the fly.
It’s hard for Columbus fans to accept, though. They won the MLS Cup/Supporters’ Shield double in Sigi Schmid’s final year, 2008. In Warzycha’s first, they won the Shield only and crashed out of the playoffs. In Warzycha’s second year, 2010, they finished second in the East. In 2011, fifth.
And finally, in 2012, they missed the playoffs. So that’s an obvious downward trend. But I still think Warzycha’s doing a good job.
What do rebuilding projects usually look like? Check out D.C. United, you impatient Crew fans. They won their two straight Shields in 2006 and '07, then spent five years in the wilderness (including a 2010 season in which they set the league record for fewest goals scored) before finally making it back to the playoffs. Or look at this year’s Rapids. Or the Revolution of the post-Taylor Twellman era.
By those measures (which are the ones we should be using), Warzycha has written the book on how to execute an overhaul while remaining competitive.
And in the second half of the 2012 season, they finally looked something like what both he (and the Crew Stadium faithful) hoped for. The addition of Federico Higuaín, the 2012 Newcomer of the Year, and forward Jairo Arrieta gave Columbus a dynamism they’d lacked since the days of Schelotto.
GOAL: Marshall heads in Higuaín restart
Moving forward into 2013, then, expect that 4-4-1-1 to be the Crew’s identity. Higuaín finished behind only Landon Donovan and David Ferreira in chances generated from open play per 90 minutes, and he was even better on restarts. Arrieta runs the channels and checks to the ball hard, opening space for the wingers to exploit.
That’s a big reason why Eddie Gaven had his best-ever year as a goalscorer. With those three guys – Higuaín, Arrieta, Gaven – there’s every reason to think the Crew will compete for the postseason again in 2013.
There is concern, however, about the still-under-construction defense. Chad Marshall faded badly down the stretch. Julius James, Carlos Mendes and Sebastián Miranda are all out of the picture now. As it stands, there are only three true defenders – Marshall, Eric Gehrig and Josh Williams, a pleasant surprise filling in all over the backline this season – on the roster.
If they get Danny O’Rourke back, that’ll make four guys who can play in the center of the backline, and nobody who's a real fullback. So there’d better be a bit more wheeling and dealing to come from Warzycha, or things could get ugly fast in Crewville.
The other area of concern is in the deep central midfield. Milovan Mirosevic did a lot of dirty work despite wearing that No. 10, and it remains to be seen if he can be as effective in that role over the course of an entire season. Tony Tchani is back, but after four years it’s still unclear where his best spot is. Kevan George showed promise as a rookie, but is very raw.
It’s obvious, then, that there’s more rebuilding to come. Warzycha’s not done with his work yet, and however much that rankles in central Ohio, the fact is Columbus have a young, solid core that, with one or two additions and some good luck on the injury front, should be able to compete in the East for years.
And isn't that the point of a rebuilding project?