Sep 2, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
If anyone out there liked Robert Warzycha’s chances of remaining in place as the Columbus Crew manager, that person would certainly define “optimistic.”
Truly, the surprising part is that Warzycha survived as long as he did in Columbus. That may look odd considering the man’s 70-59-41 overall record; in a league built on foundations of parity, nothing north of .500 can be labeled egregiously poor.
But Warzycha simply had too many things going against him. That starts, of course, with the recent takeover by new owner Anthony Precourt, who purchased the team from Hunt Sports Group (the club’s original owners) in late July. New owners, almost by definition, mean new energy and renewed ambition, so the old guard always has reason to fear.
Warzycha was even further behind in the game. To start, he was going backward; his first season, 2009, was easily the best of his five years in charge. And that was with the team Sigi Schmid built (and won the MLS Cup with in 2008).
Even then, Warzycha found a way to punctuate his debut year as a pro manager on a real downer, never mind the Supporters Shield just had just been claimed. The coach notoriously chose to leave Guillermo Barros Schelotto on the bench as the playoffs opened at Real Salt Lake. It backfired, as Columbus tumbled in the series to the eventual champs, and Warzycha’s regard around Crew Stadium began a long, slow decline that he never managed to arrest.
Discontent grew in 2010 and 2011 as the Crew made the playoffs but fell out of the first round both years. Things regressed further in 2012 when Federico Higuain’s arrival helped inspire a late-summer run and reach for the playoffs that was just this side of heroic – but one that fell short. The Crew failed to make the playoffs for the first time in Warzycha’s tenure.
Things were looking increasingly bleak for post-season joy in 2013, which meant Warzycha was about to go five seasons without a playoff series win. That’s practically indefensible in MLS, even for a club on a tight salary budget.
Meanwhile, the no-nonsense Polish manager had trouble building any corner of support; he wasn’t the lovable, quotable figure that Schmid had been. That means he as no media darling; fairly or not, that helps. Nor was he a fan fav, which can also assist in prolonged employment.
Beyond the bottom line, Warzycha had even more working against him. For instance, he had more protection under HSG, historically cautious and conservative in personnel dealings. Going from cautious to eager and ambitious was practically a pink slip in itself. (Fans, by the way, sometimes tossed pink slips into the air during his pre-game introduction at Crew Stadium, hardly an endorsement the new man in charge wants to see.)
Stylistically, the Crew was something less than pleasing on the eye. Warzycha’s teams were mostly build from grinders. They were hard to beat because they were so well drilled, so tightly organized back to front. But while teams like Real Salt Lake and Portland learned to win in high style, and while teams like Los Angeles and New York won their respective shares through star power, most success around Columbus lately was about grit, grind and Higuain’s expertise.
That’s fine if you’re winning; it’s an easy target when success is middling or worse.
It wasn’t enough, apparently, to avoid a second consecutive year beyond the playoff velvet rope (in a league where it is still easier, mathematically, to make the playoffs than to miss). All totaled, you just had to know that Warzycha’s days were numbered.
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