Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Man with War in his Name

Columbus travels to RFK this coming weekend to take on DC United at 730 PM EST. Simultaneously, the Houston Dynamo will be kicking off in Philadelphia against the Union. The Crew will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and Houston Win.

The Crew narrative for the 2012 season can be easily summed the same way any novel can be: In three Acts. Setup, Confrontation and Resolution.

ACT I: From bungling the first third of the season - in which we saw loses to three teams currently ranked far below them on the table. To ACT II: Over performing in the middle third; beating FIVE teams in the top six on the league table. And now settling in ACT III: For the last third of this season the Crew are beating who they should and losing to those ranked above them on the table. A reversal of the 1st two thirds of the season.


The most important and impressive part of this season was ACT II / the middle third / Games 10-20. This Crew team fought, punched and battled in that middle part. Without Chad Marshall in 3 of the 5 wins or Milovan Mirosevic starting in any - they beat Seattle, Chicago, Salt Lake, DC and Sporting KC.

By the time the dust settled on ACT II the Crew had played 8 of the 10 games against top 6 teams and went 5 wins, 1 draw and 2 loss. This impressive and defensively stout part of season featured players you might not have thought yet ones that are generally seen as warriors.

Starts between GM 10-20 : Warriors
5 : Sebastián Miranda
5 : Joshua Williams
5 : Andy Gruenebaum
5 : Eddie Gaven
4 : Carlos Mendes
4 : Dilly Duka
3 : Chris Birchall
3 : Justin Meram
3 : Cole Grossman
3 : Emilio Renteria

Were I to go into a must win battle right now, I would take these guys. They did it during the hot summer months and against the best competition the league has to offer.

Let's rearrange the list above into a starting lineup, shall we?

GK: Gruenebaum
RB: Miranda
CB: Williams
CB: Mendes
LB: **
CM: Birchall*
CM: Grossman*
LM: Duka
RM: Gaven
CF: Justin Meram
ST: Renteria

Say what you will about these guys but one phrase you won't hear often is "lack of effort". That said, a lot of times you hear about "effort guys" or "foxhole guys" in a belittling kind of way. Not this bunch. They won without the spotlight on them and they will win with it. You will get everything out of this group.


Games 21-32 have seen the Crew play 5 teams in the top half of the table and No Wins, 3 Drawn and 2 in the Loss column versus them. The other games have been against teams outside the playoff race and floundering at the bottom.

So what gives? How can a team go from beating the best in the league to struggling against them? I work in a performance based industry (manufacturing) where the stakes are just as high, so I'm interested. If I were to see results changing over the course of a year like the Crew, I'd want to know why.

Success at anything takes shape through proven process. If you are changing things just to change things in manufacturing then you are wasting time and money. If you control change properly you improve on previous results. What the Crew have managed is to completely lose ground against better teams. Why? How? It has to do with change management.

The change, in large part, has to do with mid-season signings of Chris Birchall, Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain. This is the change. Birchall and Arrieta straddled the middle part of the season but Federico Higuain has not. Be it better competition or just that teams focus on him, Higuain has gone silent against better teams (Arrieta has remained consistent).

Anytime you alter the inputs to your process you are going to get different results. The new signings have altered the face and shape of the Crew into something different then what was happening in the beginning and middle part of the season (ACT I and II, to keep with the post theme).

My favorite ACT (II) saw a group of players outside the current starting XI. If we go back to that group I listed and match them up with the current starting lineup, you see this:

GK: Gruenebaum
RB: Miranda
CM: Birchall

Two guys. You could even argue that Birchall isn't even playing the same spot. I mean... really? Even if Robert Warzycha thought he had a bunch of overachievers, change was not necessary.

Gaven purposely missing because is playing almost solely at left mid now that Mirosevic is bossing the middle (central and forward). Gaven is better when switching between right and left and middle. The middle part of this season is proof. Yet, he yields to Mirosevic when he starts.

What makes Eddie Gaven a good man, keeps him off the National Team. You'll get that if you watch this Crew team.

So, I'm sitting here trying to figure exactly what it is that I'm proposing. Honestly, I'm caught a bit between things. Changing away from what has been a consistent lineup over the past 10 games to something from mid-season would be introducing yet another change that might have disastrous results. That said, the stable lineup of the past 10 games can't beat a team higher up on the table. When I say they can't, I mean they haven't (zero wins in 5).

Of the teams outside the Crew, I keep a closer eye on DC because that's where I'm from. My roots with that club go back to the very beginning. Things change though. Life changes. I moved from DC down to NC and now to Ohio. The Crew are an easy team to like, it's one of their greatest qualities.

For the Crew to beat this Ben Olsen version of United it is imperative the Crew mix it up. DC's play since Dwayne DeRosario has gone down has been erratic, yet successful. Olsen will have his team ready which means leg breaking tackles and getting physical with the Crew. This is Olsen's way. Knock him down and he will pay it back 10 fold.

The Crew need to be prepared to be physical back. If not, they will lose.

It won't be popular but Warzycha needs to put his warriors out there to counter Olsen's aggressive style. Otherwise Benji will eat the Crew alive.

*Believe it or not Birchall and Grossman have featured in 3 games together. I win against DC and at Sporting and a Draw against LA.

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