Today, Columbus Crew fans can walk around with a little extra bounce in their step.
No, their team is not preparing for MLS Cup in Toronto and there were no major player signings announced.
What the club did was even more significant. The Crew sent a message to their supporters, loud and clear, that they are committed to winning even at the expense of two club legends.
[inline_node:316743]By declining the option on two of the all-time standard-bearers of the Black-and-Gold in Frankie Hejduk and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew made a commitment to their supporters and a bold move forward.
Most MLS teams would have signed up for the season that the Crew had in 2010: They led the East for most of the regular season, advanced to a US Open Cup final, qualified to the Champions League quarterfinals and finished a PK shootout away from hosting a conference championship.
But it was not enough for Columbus, who wore down under the weight of a congested schedule and the years on their most veteran legs. The Crew want to win titles and they will adopt a youth movement to get there.
Schelotto may have led the team in both goals and assists but he was clearly less of an influence on this team in 2010. Five of his nine goals came on penalty kicks, another on a rebound off a PK, one on a handball and another after a collision between goalkeeper and defender.
The Argentine displayed glimpses of magic but it came at a great cost to his team. He covered less ground and the lack of speed to get behind the opposing back line made his team predictable and punchless.
Like Hejduk, Schelotto’s slower step was more visible this year and will forever be encapsulated by a moment in the 77th minute of the second leg against the Colorado Rapids. The Argentine was teed up with a golden opportunity to book his team’s ticket to the next round but his wide open shot flew well high of the mark.
The overtime would end much like the Crew's season, with Schelotto clinging to his cramping 37-year-old right hamstring, Hejduk misfiring – this time in the opposing penalty area – and Columbus turning over the fate of their season to hope in a PK lottery.
HIGHLIGHTS: Columbus 2, Colorado 1
The Crew will be looking for swifter legs to bury those chances next year and the new roster rules that the league unveiled on Tuesday will help them with that mission. Fans can take heart: The Crew academy structure is one of the most well-developed in the league and they recently won the Under-19 US Youth Soccer national championship. The program should begin to bear its fruit in the next couple of years.
Just as important as the infusion of young talent this offseason will be the emergence of a new leader to fill the void will be critical. Chad Marshall and Brian Carroll are veterans, but may not necessarily have the presence or personality to carry their team.
When you're dealing with team legends, moving on is never easy for club or player. Robert Warzycha and his staff will have to mix and match to get the right squad and there will surely be tough times. Schelotto and Hejduk will also need time for any wounds to heal and allow the Crew and their fans to pay them homage at the appropriate time.
This week marks the end of an era. The Nordecke loses an idol.
But the fresh start is what Crew faithful should be concerned about today. The badge is bigger than the names wearing it. Trophies are all that matter.