Coming off a dream 2008 season, it was fair to expect another fast start for the Columbus Crew prior to 2009. With all but one starter returning from last year, the defending champions were expected to pick up from where they left off.
Their only notable losses were head coach Sigi Schmid and Midfielder Brad Evans, both heading West to ply their trade with Seattle Sounders FC, the newest MLS team.
Fast forward to the present. Seven games in, and the Crew's struggles are one of the major story lines of Major League Soccer in 2009. Through seven matches, they've managed five ties and two losses, good for second to last in the Eastern Conference, equal on points with their 2008 MLS cup foes, the New York Red Bulls.
With nagging injuries affecting regulars like Pat Noonan, Frankie Hejduk and Will Hesmer, the excuses are there. Guillermo Barros Schelotto hasn't been able to recapture his MVP form of last year, and with that the offense has struggled.
Despite the lackluster start, panic has not been prevalent in Ohio. New head coach Robert Warzycha looks to be patient, and the results are slowly tipping in their favor.
They played perhaps their best game of the season in a 2-2 draw against Chicago Fire, and despite blowing a 2-0 lead, should be happy with everything except the result. Coming away from feisty BMO Field with a point is something to be proud of, even though they blew a 1-0 lead and wasted a number of opportunities.
Confidence could be low as the only winless team in MLS, but the signs are there for the Crew. The championship swagger of last season may be gone, but the players are already in place to right the ship. As soon as they pick up that elusive first win, look for the Crew to go on a run to vault themselves back into the upper echelons of the league.
The bounce of the ball has started to go their way, and in a long MLS season there is plenty of time to recover and make the playoffs.