Finishing just a point and four goals behind the Houston Dynamo for the final Eastern Conference postseason spot, the 2012 Columbus Crew became the best team to miss the MLS Cup Playoffs with 52 points and a 1.53 points-per-game average. Despite missing the postseason in 2012, there are many positives for the Crew to build upon heading into the offseason.
Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha set a new career-high in wins this past season with 15. Through four seasons at the helm of the Black & Gold, Warzycha is sixth on the MLS all-time list for winning percentage with a minimum of 100 matches coached behind Bruce Arena, Octavio Zambrano, Schmid, Dominic Kinnear, and Bob Bradley. Since taking over in 2009, Warzycha ranks fourth in total MLS wins in that span behind Arena, Schmid, and Jason Kreis.
Warzycha relied on a combination of young talent and veteran experience while dealing with injuries that depleted his backline at times. Following the growing pains of this season, Warzycha likes the prospects of the team going forward.
"We were very close to winning games and tying games," Warzycha said. "Look at some of the games we lost: in Chicago, in New York, and even in D.C., we were very close to winning or having a positive result, and then we lost in the end. [Team experience] is probably part of it. Being together for a longer time, and knowing what the person playing next to you is capable of doing or what he's not capable of."
Last weekend the Crew won its second-straight Reserve League title, defeating D.C. United 2-0. Defender Josh Williams and goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum were integral parts in last year's Reserve League crown and important pieces in the Crew's First Team success this season.
Warzycha hopes to see more players follow the same path next year.
"We take the Reserve League very seriously," the Head Coach explained. "It shows this year and last year. The guys that were playing in the Reserve League like Josh Williams and Andy Gruenebaum, they've contributed a lot to the first team."
Just as in 2007 when Columbus signed Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Black & Gold recieved a midseason boost in the attack. Debuting in July, Costa Rican striker Jairo Arrieta has scored nine goals in 17 matches in 2012. Likewise, Argentine playmaker Federico Higuaín added instant offense in August with five goals and seven assists this season.
The attack duo's teammates are excited to see what the two can do in a full season in 2013.
"Jairo has nine goals in 17 games, you're looking at almost 20 goals in 34 games," winger Justin Meram said. "If you add 11 goals to our season now, we're getting ready for the playoffs. They're great players. Higuaín is a classic playmaker and Jairo is a true finisher."
"Obviously, they've shown what they can do and how they can be integral parts of this team. To have them for a full year will be nice," added Gruenebaum.
While it's unknown what changes will be made in the offseason, it is clear that the Crew has the right foundation in place.
"Obviously, we can look and say,'Yeah, there are going to be some changes this offseason,' but whatever they are, this team has a good foundation for next year," Gruenebaum said.
"I think we have a good base to build around to get it done next year."