COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Crew may have seen a streak of four straight postseason appearances come to an end this year. But there’s a belief around the club that they are headed in the right direction for a very good reason. Two of them, actually.
"We've got two little magic guys up top that we can always build around," said defender Josh Williams.
Those two little guys would be Jairo Arrieta and 2012 MLS Newcomer of the Year Federico Higuaín, forwards who were not with the club at the start of the season but made major impacts at the end.
Since the debut of Higuaín (above, left) on Aug. 19 at Houston, Columbus went 7-4-2 in the final 13 games to finish 15-12-7. The third Designated Player in Crew history had two goals in the season finale against Toronto FC to give him five goals and seven assists in just roughly a third of a season.
Just as importantly, the Argentine attacker clicked almost immediately with Costa Rican international Arrieta (above, right), who joined the Crew in mid-July and tied midfielder Eddie Gaven for the team lead with nine goals in 18 games while adding four assists.
"The second half of the season was exciting," head coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com recently. "It was better soccer. More enjoyable. The guys were better tactically. We were more competitive."
The Crew feel they are in better spot than a year go at this time as they look ahead to the upcoming season. Coming off a 13-13-8 season and a quick exit in last year’s play-in round, they released talented but troublesome forward Andrés Mendoza even though he scored 13 goals to rank among the best in MLS in 2011.
Columbus spent the offseason and well into 2012, trying to solve their goal-scoring problems before finding solutions.
"We added good forwards who can score goals so we feel better about that," Warzycha said. "Adding Higuaín and Arrieta adds stability up front and Eddie Gaven had one of his best seasons, especially in the second half."
Gaven thought the Crew also had a good team at the conclusion of the 2011 season, but back then, he knew something was missing.
"The difference is we now have the pieces to the puzzle in place for next year,” he said, referring again to those two little guys, “guys who are going to be difference-makers and they’ll be here the whole year.”