Don't Call It a Comeback: Columbus Crew Tearing Up MLS Once Again

Joe GSenior Writer IJuly 12, 2009

KANSAS CITY - JUNE 6:  Robbie Rogers #19, Gino Padula #4 , Guillermo Barros Schelotto #7 and Eddie Gaven #12 of the Columbus Crew celebrate against the Kansas City Wizards at CommunityAmerica Ballpark on June 6, 2009 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Maybe the aging veterans on Columbus' roster were just waiting for the weather to warm up.

The Columbus Crew spent the early part of the 2009 MLS season enduring the worst start ever by a defending MLS champion. They didn't take home all three points until their eighth match of the season.

Their record was an ugly 0-5-2, and they looked more like an overmatched team of eight-year old kids than the defending champs.

Since that eighth match, a 3-2 victory over Kansas City, Columbus has only tasted defeat once. They've beaten one of the best teams in the league (a 2-1 win over Chivas USA) while climbing to within one point of first place in the Eastern Conference, with a game in hand.

The recent revival has surprised quite a few people, but that shouldn't be the case. Despite a horrifically slow start, the road to the 2009 MLS Cup still has to go through the defending champions.

Is it any coincidence that Columbus' first victory coincided with Frankie Hejduk's return to the lineup? Injuries kept Hejduk out of the lineup until May 9, and the Crew sorely missed his calming, veteran presence in their lineup.

A back-line with Hejduk would not concede four goals to Real Salt Lake, and they would certainly do a better job of holding leads.

Hejduk has stabilized a defense that was fairly shaky in the early part of the season. Gone are the foolish mistakes, and they've been replaced by a very talented right back who can also get forward and aid in the attack.

The rest of MLS would do well to prepare for an onslaught from Columbus in the coming months. Yes, they've been on a hot streak in the last month or so, but they aren't playing anywhere near their best.

Yes, a team that is rapidly closing on the top of the standings is in poor form.

Just take a look at the offense. Last season's MVP, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, finished the year with 20 assists despite being injured for a lengthy spell just before the playoffs. This season? He's registered just a single assist in 17 appearances.

Most fans will point to the fact that Schelotto has scored 10 goals to make up for his lack of assists, but to me that signifies a problem. Last season he only scored seven times in 31 appearances.

Such a lopsided goals-to-assists ratio in 2009 suggests that nobody else on the Columbus roster has stepped up to provide offense. Schelotto is shouldering nearly the entire load.

Schelotto's teammates are still dragging their feet on the offensive end. Alejandro Moreno is second on the club in goals scored, and he's only hit the back of the net three times.

Eddie Gaven, Chad Marshall and Emmanuel Ekpo have two apiece. After that? A few guys with a single goal.

Robbie Rogers scored eight times last season, and is still searching for his first of 2009. Crew fans will be hoping that a taste of international duty in the Gold Cup will provide a spark in the second half.

When the rest of the Crew returns to form—and trust me, that will happen—Columbus should find themselves perched atop the East for the second season running.