We’ve all seen enough sports movies to know about the savior — coach, player, heavenly host (what up, Christopher Lloyd!), whatever — who shows up from out of town or off the bench to pull a team out of a tailspin and into contention.
Old-school Crew fans remember this phenomenon playing out during the inaugural MLS season in 1996. The decidedly last-place Crew replaced head coach Timo Liekoski with assistant Tom Fitzgerald in early August. Then, one week later, Columbus hired future U.S. World Cup mainstay Brad Friedel as goalie. They may well have benefited from angelic assistance too, considering they reeled off nine wins in the final 10 matches to qualify for the playoffs on the last day of the season.
This year’s Crew seemed headed for the dumps repeatedly, but every time things started to look hopeless, somebody stepped up. Unfortunately, they always drifted back into mediocrity eventually. Lots of players grabbed the reins, but none stayed in the driver’s seat long enough to keep the Crew from veering off course again.
During the home opener it was offseason acquisitions Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargas (who?). Both scored to lead Columbus over Montreal. They then proceeded to not score goals for a long time.
Picking up the slack during the offensive drought were defenders Josh Williams and Nemanja Vukovic. Both guys only ended up starting because others were injured, but their sterling defense and attacking contributions helped the Crew keep plugging along until Justin Meram and Emilio Renteria came off the bench and burst the floodgates.
Meram’s three-game scoring streak overlapped with Renteria’s two-game spurt. Both were short-lived, but they kept Columbus afloat until Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain arrived and the wizardry commenced.
Even that magic had an expiration date. (Labor Day, apparently.) The bad news for Columbus is there’s nobody left to come in and save the day — almost everybody’s healthy, and the roster freeze deadline is past. If the Crew is going to make the playoffs, they have to do it without any more fresh bolts of lightning.
The good news? Everyone who’s carried Columbus at one point or another is still around —not to mention players like Andy Gruenebaum and Eddie Gaven that were solid all season. The Crew has the pieces to go somewhere, if only they can push through the malaise.