Crew Media Day
Today was media day, when the press is invited to watch the team practice in Crew Stadium and attend a luncheon with players and the team brass. While I wrote recently that I felt burned out from the last couple seasons of awful play, I'm pleased to report that after spending some time around the team today, things seem to be looking up heading into Saturday's season opener against New York (7 p.m., Columbus Crew Stadium).
After a brisk practice in the frigid air, we convened in the stadium's Huntington Club for a luncheon and interviews. Several staff members spoke in brief. Crew press contact Dave Stephany said this season seems to be more anticipated than any in his seven years with the franchise. General Manager Mark McCullers recapped several elements of growth around the league and seemed legitimately shaken by a video tribute to recently deceased team founder Lamar Hunt. And Coach Sigi Schmid (pictured above) spoke about the stronger nucleus of players on this year's squad and his desire to keep the team healthy this year. He wants to be two men deep at each position, he said, as opposed to last season when the Crew struggled to keep 11 healthy players on the field.
"Our goal is as we get to be three months into this season that people are talking about the Columbus Crew and people are talking about individual players on the Columbus Crew," Schmid said. "Right now, everybody's sort of discounting us, and I think that's a big mistake for all the teams in the league, because we're not going to be a team that should be discounted."
The Crew has chosen to go with three rotating captains instead of one, naming Frankie Hejduk, Ezra Hendrickson and Duncan Oughton to the post. Each one spoke for a few seconds (literally) on the outlook for this season.
Hejduk noted, "Our record in the preseason (9-1-3) speaks for itself," adding, "We are a team to be reckoned with." Hendrickson repeated that phrase verbatim: "We are a team to be reckoned with." And Oughton spoke about not just wanting to climb out of the Eastern Conference basement, but to win a championship—a perfectly realistic goal in a league with 13 teams and eight playoff spots.
As you can see, the theme of the day was the classic "We get no respect"/"Let's show the haters we mean business" mentality, which always bodes well for drumming up some team spirit. Now, about getting the public excited:
"We want to get the support of the community," Schmid said. "Obviously we saw the support that Ohio State gets when they get close to championships. We want to not only get close to a championship, we want to take one as well. And we want to get that community support behind us. I know it's here, but we haven't maybe been worthy of it in the last year, so now it's a matter of us going out there and proving that we're worthy of it."
After the press conference, we were free to meet with the players. I snagged a couple minutes with new midfielder Danny O'Rourke, who grew up in the area and starred for Worthington Kilbourne. Since then, he played at Indiana and won the Herrman Trophy, college soccer's version of the Heisman, before playing MLS seasons in San Jose and New York. We talked about how strange it is to come back to your hometown in such a different capacity (very), explored his musical preferences (emo) and talked about where he likes to hang out in town (rock concerts at the Newport and LC). Look for the interview when we get around to doing some Crew coverage in print.
See you Saturday (if you're willing to brave the freezing cold)!