What a difference a year makes.
At first glance, it would seem that the Crew is on par with its point total from 2012. But with seven points so far, the 2013 Crew is just one point better than last year's side was through the first four matches.
But unlike last season, the Black & Gold have the pieces in place to be successful early on in 2013 after taking six out of nine points on the road to start the season. In March 2012, injuries depleted the team. Other than Eddie Gaven missing two matches with an ankle injury, the Crew has had the good fortune of its players staying healthy so far this season.
"The team is more settled. We had a ton of injuries last year," Crew President and General Manager Mark McCullers explained. "Last year's team was very unsettled and we had to find a way to get results. Give credit to our coaching staff. They understand the personnel and they understand how we have to play in order to get points and be effective.
McCullers continued: "The coaching staff has plenty of options in terms of who they can select now and I think the style of play demonstrates that we have a a lot of pieces in place right now that we didn't have at this point last year."
Healthy players, along with the in-flux of several offseason signings, has created a competitive environment in the Crew's training sessions that has carried over to match day.
"There was a lot more continuity going into the season with a consistent group of players, where as last year we didn't know who was going to be healthy and where we would have to fill-in different spots," goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. "That's fine, because we had the depth to do so, but it's just easier when you have the competition at every position. Everybody is battling each week just to get on the field."
Six different players have scored seven goals through the first four matches of 2013 for the Crew, while the team has only surrendered four. At the same point last season, the Black & Gold had scored just four goals while giving up six talies. An improved Crew backline has ultimately helped make the Black & Gold attack more productive in 2013.
"We've got Federico Higuaín now, we've got Dominic Oduro, Ben Speas to add to Eddie Gaven and Jairo Arrieta, that's a significant difference. I also look at the defense and how that allows us to play the type of game that we're playing right now and scoring the goals we're scoring," McCullers said.
"It's good that we have goals from different people," Head Coach Robert Warzycha echoed. "Our set-pieces are very good. People are making good runs and we have good service. We're going to be one of the teams that gets a lot of goals off set-pieces. Scoring seven goals in the first four games is good. It means we're creating chances. The goals are different, we can hurt teams in different ways."
Like last season, the Crew is focused on returning to the playoffs. But it seems that after a successul March against quality opponents, the Black & Gold are in a better position than they were a year ago.
"We've got a long way to go, but this is a team that can contend for the Eastern Conference Championship," McCullers stated. "I think last year's team was very capable. I know we had a lot of injuries and we needed some things to fall into place, but I thought the we were battling and gaining points last year was a positive sign.
"It's not perfect right now, but we like what it can be. It's fun, attractive soccer."