COLUMBUS — The Columbus Crew announced today that it has parted ways with Head Coach Robert Warzycha. In his fifth year in charge, Warzycha led the Crew to a 8-13-5 record (29 points), with the Black & Gold currently sitting in eighth place in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, eight points outside the fifth and final MLS Cup Playoffs position. With eight MLS regular-season matches remaining, Technical Director Brian Bliss becomes the Crew’s Interim Head Coach following six years in his previous role. Bliss will retain his Technical Director duties during this transition.
“This is a difficult decision that has not been taken lightly,” said Crew President & General Manager Mark McCullers. “Robert has been a loyal and dedicated member of this organization for 18 years. He will always be part of the Crew family, and he deserves our respect and acknowledgement for the sacrifices he has made, his numerous accomplishments and all that he has contributed to this club, both as a player and a coach.”
McCullers continues, “Following a thorough evaluation of the club with Anthony [Precourt], we determined that Robert’s contract would not be extended beyond 2013. Rather than wait until the end of the season, we felt that the best interests of the club and Robert would be served by making this change now. We believe our team can still accomplish more this season and that a change in coaching leadership under Brian would be a motivating factor for the club.”
“I have been intently following this team since mid-April when we decided to explore the possibility of acquiring the Crew,” said Crew Chairman and Investor-Operator Anthony Precourt. “When I became the club’s new Chairman, I said that I would take the necessary time to be thoughtful and evaluate where we needed to make changes. When we came to the conclusion that we were not going to retain Robert beyond this season, it was apparent that we needed to make this change now so that we can refocus the club around Brian’s leadership for the remainder of this season, as well as get the process started on finding a new head coach.”
Following a six-year run as the club’s first-ever Technical Director, former Crew defender and longtime United States Men’s National Team player Brian Bliss becomes the sixth Head Coach in team history, beginning on an interim basis effective immediately. A Crew player from 1996-97, when he scored two goals in 31 games, Bliss has enjoyed a 22-year career in professional soccer as a player, coach and administrator. A member of the 1990 U.S. World Cup team, Bliss earned 33 caps with the U.S. National Team from 1984-95, tallying two goals. He also played in the 1995 Copa America tournament and represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. His playing career culminated with Major League Soccer’s first three seasons, where he scored two goals and added a pair of assists in 50 MLS games with the Crew, MetroStars and Wizards from 1996-98.
Bliss began his coaching career in 1999, returning to Kansas City in 2000 as an Assistant Coach. Bliss helped the Wizards capture the 2000 MLS Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, along with the 2004 U.S. Open Cup. He has served as an Interim Head Coach before, filling the role in Kansas City in July of 2006, securing points from 10 of the club’s remaining 14 matches during that campaign. Bliss joined the Crew in 2008 during the Black & Gold’s Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup-winning campaign. Since then he has overseen all player personnel matters, player assessment and domestic and international scouting. Bliss was instrumental in last year’s midseason signing of 2012 MLS Newcomer of the Year and the Crew’s third-ever Designated Player, Federico Higuain.
Bliss has also served as an Assistant Coach on the United States Under-20 squad since January 2012, and most recently was with the club during the team’s group stage appearance at the 2013 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Turkey alongside frequent U-20 captain and Crew Homegrown Player Wil Trapp.
“It is with mixed emotions that I accept this position,” said Crew Interim Head Coach Brian Bliss. “Robert is a true professional and a close friend, and I will personally miss working with him.”
“Sometimes in these situations a fresh perspective and a new voice are needed,” Bliss said. “I’m confident in our players and the talent on our roster. I know these guys have a lot of fight in them, and they have the desire to continue battling and finish strong. Our fans deserve to see the best out of this team, and I plan to do what’s necessary to make that happen.”
McCullers said that the Crew has already started developing a list of potential coaching candidates to begin the interview process, and that Bliss will be considered for the full-time position. “We plan to be very thorough and detailed in our process to find a new Head Coach,” McCullers said. “Brian deserves the opportunity to be part of that process, and we plan to have a lot of conversations over the course of the next few months.”
Warzycha’s tenure ends with a regular-season record of 70-59-41, tied with Tom Fitzgerald (1996-2001) for the most regular-season wins (70) as a Head Coach of the Crew. After taking over on an interim basis in 2005 following the dismissal of Greg Andrulis, Warzycha went 7-6-3 to finish that campaign. Sigi Schmid took the reins from Warzycha for three seasons from 2006-2008, while Warzycha served as an Assistant Coach en route to the club’s first MLS Cup championship in 2008. Warzycha became the Crew’s boss in 2009 and helped lead the Black & Gold to several notable titles while in charge. During Warzycha’s time as Head Coach, the Crew won the 2009 Supporters’ Shield, made back-to-back semifinal runs in the CONCACAF Champions League, reached the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final and delivered four Trillium Cup trophies in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013 in the club’s derby against Toronto FC.
In a related move, Assistant Coaches Ricardo Iribarren and Vojislav Stanisic have also been relieved of their duties. Assistant Mike Lapper is being retained in his current role, and plans to replace the two assistant coaching vacancies will be addressed in the coming days. Iribarren was part of the Crew’s coaching staff for seven years alongside Warzycha after representing the club as a player in 1996 and 1998. Stanisic was in his second year with the club after joining the Black & Gold as Goalkeeper Coach in 2012.
The Crew returns to MLS action with two matches in four days, beginning at home against the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, September 4 (7:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio). The club then travels to face Bliss’ former club, Sporting Kansas City, on Saturday, September 7 (8:30 p.m. ET / FOX Sports Ohio).