Crew: Diluted/deluded

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

To put it kindly, watching the Crew this season has not been pleasant.

Columbus has looked sluggish and disconnected. Lacking a ferocious striker or a cunning central midfielder, they've scored just three times in four matches, and only once from the run of play. They're younger than last year's squad but aren't necessarily faster - just more confused.

If these problems persist, blame the offseason fire sale that sent the Crew's biggest stars packing. If the team gels to become a title contender, call the front office a bunch of geniuses.

Either scenario seems realistic. It's too early to tell which way the season will break. But in the meantime the Black and Gold's mediocrity underscores a bigger problem for the league: MLS in general has been less than riveting.

"Hasn't MLS always been less than riveting?" you might ask, to which a firm response of, "Scram, haters!" is in order. The league made strides in recent years, faring better than ever in international competition and putting an exciting product on the pitch increasingly often.

Credit the ascent of homegrown coaches like Jason Kreis who understand the league, the continued improvement of the U.S. youth system and the successful pursuit of not-yet-washed-up foreign talents like Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Javier Morales.

Those factors are still in place (except poor old Guillermo), yet now most teams seem thin and picked over. Few powerhouses exist. Ties abound, and not exhilarating ties - the kind of ties that give ties a bad name.

A likely culprit for this gruesome parity? Over-aggressive expansion.

MLS has added a new team every season since 2007. This year they created two more in Portland and Vancouver. Each new squad built its roster by stripping the existing clubs of core players in an expansion draft, in turn creating more roster spots for subpar players. That attrition is starting to take its toll.

The Crew's 1-1-2 record suggests an average MLS squad, and indeed they're smack in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings. But if their lackluster showing thus far qualifies them as middle class, MLS is in danger of backsliding.

The plan is to add another team in Montreal next season, then remain at 20 teams for the foreseeable future. But MLS may have already gotten ahead of itself. Let's hope we don't have to spend seasons upon seasons waiting for the talent pool to catch up.

Columbus Crew vs. Sporting KC

7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16

Crew Stadium, North Side