OBETZ, Ohio – Andrés Mendoza and Emilio Rentería showed that they were a lethal combination late in the season at New England.
The problem was that it was all too rare an occurrence.
Rentería set up his South American partner for his 12th and 13th goals against the Revs, but the forwards weren’t often on the field together, partnering up top for just 49 minutes through the first 23 games mainly because of injuries. And although that time increased as the season wore on, the Crew couldn’t help but wonder how much their record (13-13-8) might have improved with a full-time tandem.
For that reason, Crew technical director Brian Bliss gave the forwards a "B-" in his postseason assessment to MLSsoccer.com.
Rentería had eight goals to rank second behind Mendoza but played just 18 of 34 matches due to a variety of leg injuries that have plagued him since joining the team in August 2009.
“We’re looking at that,” Bliss said. “You want to keep the guy, but if you can’t count on him, you better have something on the bench to supplement when he’s going to be out.”
Tommy Heinemann, a third-year professional in his first MLS season, was usually the first choice to replace Mendoza or Rentería. He scored three goals in 28 games (12 starts) but unofficially led the team in easy scoring chances missed.
“My expectations and Tommy’s expectations were probably similar,” Bliss said. “I think he would have been good for five to seven goals.”
Veteran Jeff Cunningham contributed two goals – the second via penalty kick against the Seattle Sounders on Aug. 27 that made him the all-time MLS scoring leader (134) – in an otherwise disappointing season. Rookie Justin Meram saw time up top as well as in the midfield and did not score.
Overall, the Crew finished 10th in the league with 43 goals – a 1.26 average that was down from 1.33 in 2010. Still, Crew coach Robert Warzycha would not drop the blame squarely on the forwards.
“If we had better service they would be more successful,” he said. “Robbie [Rogers] had a career high in assists, but he should have had a few more. Eddie Gaven the same, and, obviously, the two guys in the middle. If they take a shot from distance, the defender has to step up and that frees the forwards for more space. We didn’t do that. We’re looking for a midfielder to do that.”
With that in mind, the offseason will be interesting once again. Mendoza, the team’s only Designated Player, is not guaranteed of returning, Bliss said. Also, the Crew are unsure if they will bring Cunningham back at a lower salary.
In a perfect world, they would find a player such as former Crew striker Stern John (44 goals in 55 games before his departure to England), who could create something out of nothing.
“Obviously, it would be nice to have one guy on the field that can change the game by himself,” Warzycha said. “If we can find him, it would be great. But when Stern John was here, he didn’t make a lot of money. Guys like that are in Europe.”