Make sure to attend the last Crew game of the season this Sunday afternoon, because it really is the last one. No more soccer at Crew Stadium until 2013. After squandering leads of 1-0 and 2-1 en route to a 3-2 defeat in D.C. last weekend, Columbus will not qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007.
You should also bring a “Fire Warzycha” sign to Sunday’s match. When you guide a club from breathtakingly dominant league champions to frustratingly inept outsiders-looking-in over the course of four seasons — even after your front office restocked your expansion-ravaged roster with an array of high-quality acquisitions — you deserve to lose your job, no matter how far back your history with the club goes.
Since inheriting the league’s best team from Sigi Schmid in 2009, Robert Warzycha has often seemed to be spinning plates when merely carrying them would do, adding a degree of difficulty to his job through head-scratching lineups and substitutions.
That didn’t stop the Crew from repeating as Supporters Shield winners in Warzycha’s first season as head coach, but even then Schmid’s carefully-cultivated culture of winning was beginning to decay. Columbus crashed out of the playoffs early that year, and again in 2010, and again in 2011, finishing lower in the standings with each successive season. This time the collapse came before the Crew could even crack the postseason.
There is no good reason the Crew’s season should be finished this week. Yes, MLS is increasingly competitive. And no, the Crew never seems to benefit when U.S. national team veterans or European club stars link up with the league. And yes, Columbus was comically injury-ridden this year (shout out to Julius James’ collapsed lung!).
But, as evidenced by one magical month at the end of summer — call it “August of Higuain” — this roster was good enough to make noise in a league where bubble teams routinely catch fire and burn their way to the title.
Maybe next year. After all, Federico Higuain’s predecessor in the Argentine-soccer-messiah department, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, wasn’t able to lift Columbus to the playoffs in his first half-season either. By the following year, he was doling out assists at MLS Cup. But that glorious 2008 season was also the culmination of three years of upward momentum under one of America’s great soccer minds. The same can’t be said about the Crew’s current slow rot.