The Crew is used to using its media day to drum up optimism after a bummer of a season. This year, there's no need for spin or artificial cheer. The champs are back, and judging from last week's strong showing in Houston, they're ready to contend for another title.

As Crew communications dude Dave Stephany cracked, with a sidelong glance to the tower of trophies assembled at stage right, "I kinda like what we've done with the place this year."

The Crew is used to using its media day to drum up optimism after a bummer of a season. This year, there's no need for spin or artificial cheer. The champs are back, and judging from last week's strong showing in Houston, they're ready to contend for another title.

As Crew communications dude Dave Stephany cracked, with a sidelong glance to the tower of trophies assembled at stage right, "I kinda like what we've done with the place this year."

Mark McCullers

President and General Manager Mark McCullers started things off with a rundown of offseason activity. "The most important offseason priority for the team was continuity," he explained, detailing the new deals for Danny O'Rourke, Chad Marshall ("after a tour of Germany") and Guillermo Barros Schelotto. He called recently promoted head coach Robert Warzycha "one of the most notable figures in Crew history," and noted that with MLS undergoing aggressive expansion, "We have to raise the bar" in business terms. The Crew remains in the bottom half of the league in numerous business categories, he said.

McCullers also reminded folks of the July 7 CONCACAF Gold Cup matches at Crew Stadium and the Crew's participation in this year's CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup. And he noted something I hadn't heard yet: On May 9, the club will celebrate the 10th anniversary of Crew Stadium.

Lastly, he congratulated the Crew for showing their usual "gritty resiliency and confidence" against the perennially elite Houston Dynamo last week "on their home turf, a term I use loosely." Nice dig at the abhorrent conditions in Robertson Stadium.

Robert Warzycha

Warzycha was much briefer with his comments, as coaches are wont to be. He opened with a crack about the weather and how he woke up today wondering, "Are we still in Austin, Texas?" (The conditions were less than summery when Columbus was down there training a couple weeks back.) He also asserted that the good showing in Houston proved that their preseason path through Florida, England and Texas was a good one. "The players are fit," Warzycha said.

Then Mayor Michael Coleman showed up to congratulate "the best team in the nation" for winning a championship with qualities he ascribed to all of Columbus: "patience, optimism, fan loyalty and a can-do attitude."

Coleman then challenged the Crew to take down Toronto FC this weekend in pursuit of the Trillum Cup, the trophy award to the winner of the season series between the clubs. He recalled his harsh words for the city at last year's media day: "I told you I didn't like Toronto then. And guess what? I don't like Toronto now."

McCullers and Warzycha came back to unveil the new "MLS CHAMPIONS WAY" street signs that now hang at the corner of Hudson Street and Silver Drive. Photo ops ensued, then some individual interviews. A couple more tidbits:

•Warzycha was happy with Emmanuel Ekpo's play in central midfield Saturday, particularly his defense. Ekpo merely said he wouldn't judge his performance based on one game on a crappy field.

•McCullers remained highly concerned about convincing the Ohio Expo Center to get the ball rolling on the $5 million parking lot improvement project that was approved in November. Forcing fans to park in a muddy field has proved to be a problem for the Crew in the past, a problem that reared its head against last month with the rainy conditions for the U.S.-Mexico World Cup qualifier. "It's already caused us to lose fans," McCullers said. "Eventually it will cause us to lose events."