Just two days after being introduced as interim head coach, Brian Bliss was rewarded with something the Columbus Crew haven't seen much of lately: a victory.
For Bliss, the team's technical director who slided into the coaching role after Monday's firing of Robert Warzycha, there wasn't enough time to change tactics. But in Wednesday night's 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo, he did succeed in his goal of instilling a different attitude in the team before its midweek matchup.
"There's not a lot you can do on a tactical side of things in a short amount of time, that's built up over time," Bliss told reporters after the match. "But what Mike [Lapper, assistant coach] and myself were trying to get across was the mentality has to change, and you can influence the mentality. I think the guys had the right frame of mind."
Bliss mentioned "actions of consequence" on the offensive end multiple times in the days leading up to the match, and the Crew found them in goals from Ryan Finley and Justin Meram, the first of the season for both players and the first of the rookie Finley's career. Bliss said that the emphasis on speeding up the game and pushing toward the goal was what earned the team three points.
"I've said it to these guys from Day 1," Bliss continued, "it's a phrase of mine, and they're going to hear it again: 'It's a running man's game.' And these guys ran tonight. They ran and they ran, and that's why they won the game."
Meram noticed the difference in focus as well, and found success in pushing higher up the field and keeping the Houston fullbacks on their heels.
"The last couple of games we were playing pretty slow, and it's kind of easy to defend that," Meram said in the locker room after the match. "Today, for 90 minutes, we were playing at a really great pace, and whenever you do that and you're right on the defender's back, the outside backs couldn't even really do much for them because we were giving them so much pressure, so that's great."
Bliss' debut was nearly ruined in the first minute, when Chad Barson made a sliding last-second effort to clear a Will Bruin shot off of the line, saving the scoreline for the Crew. And the interim head coach admitted he saw the entire 89-plus minutes to come flash before him when asked what his reaction was to seeing his team nearly go down in less than 60 seconds.
"Mama mia!" he laughed. "I probably said worse on the sideline, but you get the gist. I think we dodged a bullet."