I repeat, sometimes -- the team responds and gets a result out of fear. Columbus is a nice place to play. The rent is cheaper than most MLS cities, the club has great facilities, and the fans are somewhat loyal. Most players and their families have settled in and have mortgages, and some of them even have fairly lucrative side businesses that they don't want to lose. However, if you want to employ what I'll call Option A, you've got to go in hard and take no prisoners. I just can't see Andrulis being that kind of guy.
What I would anticipate is what will be referred to as Option B, where the coach tries to appeal to the players' good nature. It's the old, "C'mon guys, we're better than this and we know it," speech. The boss uses words like "character" and phrases like "pride in your work" and "this is your job", hoping that the team will understand that and work together toward the common goal of getting results.
In soccer, the most important result is the next result. However, the Columbus Crew are far too talented to have not made the playoffs last year and to have this kind of start to the new season. Granted, they made some pretty dramatic changes in the offseason, losing Brian McBride and Brian West and basically restructuring their defensive line, especially in the middle with Robin Fraser and Chad Marshall. However, the rest of the team looks pretty much the same.
Erick Scott, another a new addition, really hasn't brought much to this team, as Andrulis had hoped. Kyle Martino's exit from the game last week, apparently refusing to shake Andrulis' hand, didn't go unnoticed. The team looks frustrated with the fact that they haven't scored, and they seem to be reacting with silly fouls like Eric Denton's against the L.A. Galaxy and Robin Fraser's against D.C. United last week in the 94th minute. Fraser's red card, as questionable as it was, wasn't what struck me most about that play. It was Robin's reaction that said it all, basically implying, "This is as bad as it gets."
Obviously, this is a good team, but they're underperforming. Right now it looks as if the Crew couldn't beat an A-League team, which makes sense because at times, they look like a college team. Unfortunately, Andrulis is taking a lot of heat for something that I'm not too sure is entirely his fault.
Another question is where is general manager Jim Smith in all of this? Where was he six months ago at the end of the season, when the club knew it was going to be dealing with some serious changes? It appeared that this is the team the Crew wanted to start the season with, but now you've got to wonder whether some of the players are on the trading block.
How they react Saturday against New England will be an indicator for their whole season. How do they respond collectively to the perception that they are the worst team in the league, when on paper they clearly are not? How will they respond to losing their captain, Fraser, due to last week's red card? Can they figure out a way to get on the scoreboard without Frankie Hejduk being their major contributor offensively?
This is a game that they should win, and clearly have to win if they are going to right the ship for Andrulis. This is the fifth anniversary of Crew Stadium. It opened five years ago and has become a signature for the city of Columbus and for our league. I just hope that the hardest working team in America shows up and gives the kind of effort that the stadium and those fans deserve.
The Columbus Crew will have to deal with Taylor Twellman, who made the most of his opportunity with the U.S. national team a couple of weeks ago in Dallas by contributing to the goal that beat Mexico. Twellman is for real. With the adjustments that Columbus needs to make defensively, they've got to figure out who's got him on corner kicks, who's got him on free kicks, and who's got him in general. If they leave it up to Chad Marshall to do it alone, Twellman will score.
New England has always been a tough team to play against for most teams, but not for Columbus, which is 18-9-3 all-time against the Revolution during the regular season. New England knows that, and they are in a position similar to the Crew's heading into the seventh week of the season. They need to be better, and they're looking to turn things around and take advantage of Columbus' situation. This game is going to be aggressive. There will be a lot of fouls, and the game will be won on set pieces. Regardless of what happens on the field, though, you've got to think that all eyes will be on Greg Andrulis.
Last week in Dallas, the L.A. Galaxy came from behind pretty much because of second-half sub Cobi Jones and a much-needed individual performance from Jovan Kirovski, which saved what could have been a very frustrating day for Carlos Ruiz. Speaking of Ruiz, in the Dallas game, he scored one of the classier goals he has scored during his MLS career. On his goal, if he had gone down and stayed down, Scott Garlick would have gotten a red card. I commend Carlos for doing the right thing by bouncing up and finishing the play, rather than turning it into another reason for people to throw rocks at him for diving.
The ESPN2 game in Dallas was ho-hum, and the Burn struggled in front of a small crowd on a hot day in Dallas. I guess it would have been better for our TV crew to have covered the MetroStars vs. San Jose, which resulted in a 5-5 tie and was one of the more exciting games this league has seen. That's just how it goes sometimes.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.