COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Crew had the best and worst of starts the past two seasons under coach Robert Warzycha, but neither was an indication of how the rest of the regular season went.
“We won the Supporters’ Shield the one year  with an awful start, and then we had a great start last and ended up, what, fifth overall in the league?” technical director Brian Bliss said. “It’s important that you play well, and if you get mixed results, that’s OK. The most important part is the end of the year."
The Crew open 2011 with a lot of new faces and a new system thanks to the decision not to bring back All-Star attacker Guillermo Barros Schelotto. That’s why it might be imperative to avoid the 0-5-2 start of 2009, even though Columbusended winning the Supporters’ Shield (13-10-7, 49 points).
“It would be nice but I’m not going to allow that to put undue pressure on us if we don’t come out of the gate like last year,” president-general manager Mark McCullers said of going 6-0-2 in the first eight games a year ago. “I’ve seen the team in preseason. I know what they’re capable of. I have confidence in what this team is able to do.”
The good beginning in 2010 didn’t hold and the Crew finished 14-8-8 (50 points).
“The obvious thing is you don’t want to start off behind the eight-ball – 2-8-2 after 12 games – because then you’re playing catch up all year,” Bliss said.
What Columbus would like to do is finish strong as it did in 2008, when they won their only MLS Cup. Schelotto and others from that team such as Frankie Hejduk, Brian Carroll, Duncan Oughton and Gino Padula were not brought back this year and half of the 30-man roster is new.
“This year is different because we have a different team,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “The past two years there weren’t many, if any, changes. We knew what we had and relied on those guys. We think we are going to be successful but the question is how we’re going to perform under pressure. We’ll find that out Saturday at DC. We’ll find out what we’re made of.”
The biggest tactical changes are putting both forwards in the box as opposed to Schelotto playing in a withdrawn position and having the wingers more involved.
“He really wants the two guys playing wide to come in more and leave the width to the guys who are playing outside back,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “That’s the one point he’s trying to drive home. It’s worked well for us because once we do get guys wide it gets more guys in the box and creates more goal-scoring opportunities.”
Warzycha had hinted that former D.C. United defender Julius James may start at centerback for Andy Iro and midfielder Dilly Duka could replace Robbie Rogers on the left side.
“It’s good to have a lot of options,” Warzycha said.