It’s been a weird year.
At the All-Star break (which really is no break at all), the Crew is scrapping away in the middle of the pack, with a 7-7-4 record good for sixth place out of 10 in the Eastern Conference. They have no breakout stars but lots of budding fan favorites — all role players, many of them still learning their roles. They have persevered despite so many injuries you almost expect to see someone entering a match on crutches.
Here are some of the least likely storylines so far.
5. Attendance on the rise: After the Crew’s once-mighty attendance numbers plummeted near the bottom of the league, it’s pleasantly surprising to see figures back in the 17,000-20,000 range these past three home games.
4. Frankie Hejduk returns as the face of the Crew: Perhaps some of the credit for those butts in the seats belongs to Hejduk, by far the most publicized face in the organization. His return as “brand ambassador” wasn’t all that shocking, but the fact that he’s gotten more press than any of the active players is somewhat alarming.
3. Injuries, injuries and more injuries: Again, the Crew suffering from rampant injuries isn’t the surprise. But the sheer epic quantity of them is shocking, as is the diversity (collapsed lung?). So is the team’s persistence in spite of it all.
2. Chris Birchall faces off against his old pals at Stoke City: Birchall is a naturalized citizen of Trinidad, but he grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, the network of villages in central England that’s home to Premier League club Stoke City. Many of his oldest friends, including his best man Andy Wilkinson, play for Stoke. So imagine his surprise when, mere days after Birchall signed with the Crew, they announced an exhibition against none other than Stoke City.
1. The triumphant emergence and tragic frustration of Josh Williams: Not sure which story is crazier. Is it the one where Williams rebounds from a 10-game suspension and 10-percent salary reduction in 2011 for violating the league substance-use policy, rising from benchwarmer purgatory into the 2012 starting lineup?
Or is it the one where Williams is the Crew’s most dangerous attacking threat (as a defender), yet he’s had two goals called back because of phantom offside calls, and another one saved off the line, and a bicycle kick off the crossbar?
Either way, Williams has been the biggest surprise in a season full of them.