By Casey Ward

Primum non nocere, a Latin maxim meaning “first, do no harm,” relates to doctors’ prudent practice of avoiding any procedure on an ill, injured or otherwise suffering body that may cause more harm than good.  The entire foundation of Western medical ethics rests on a related principle in the Hippocratic Oath.  Meddling, even with good intentions, can have unforeseen and deleterious consequences.  “Do no harm” has extended beyond the parameters of the medical field and provided guidance to innumerable professionals, including police officers, politicians, and CEOs.  Unfortunately, it has also become the mantra of Columbus Crew head coach, Robert Warzycha.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

After the controversial departure of Sigi Schmid to Seattle Sounders in 2009, then assistant coach Warzycha was given the seemingly effortless responsibility of managing the best team in Major League Soccer.  A stingy defense, fast and fluid flanks, and arguably the most creative player in the league’s history, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the Crew had it all in 2008.  Perhaps more impressive than the team Schmid assembled during his three years in Columbus, the Crew was to remain (almost) intact for the 2009 season.  Although the ink on some contracts was still wet when the Crew opened its season, the players which held aloft the Supporter’s Shield in November/October would be the same to do so again in 12 month’s time.

The one player in the starting lineup to wear another team’s jersey at the start of 2009 was Brad Evans.  Left unprotected for the Expansion Draft, Evans was snatched up by Schmid and the Sounders.  At times wasteful in possession, which can be attributed to an easily-harried style or inadequate dribbling skills, Evans nonetheless possesses certain qualities that made him an asset in Columbus, notably his willingness to challenge (and likely win) everything in the air and to make late runs into the box.  Undervalued by the assistant coaching staff, Evans was essentially offered up to Schmid’s newest venture.  A writer more skeptical of human nature than me might claim that Evan’s vulnerability in the draft was the last canny act of a departing coach, as the clandestine negotiations between Schmid and Seattle were concluding at precisely the moment Columbus was finalizing its unprotect player list.

With only Evans missing, Warzycha had little adjustments to make and could abide by the time-tested Hippocratic prescription.  As was soon discovered by the coaches, players and fans, Evans’ departure was much more damaging than most had anticipated.  With Emmanuel Ekpo joining Brian Carroll in the midfield, Columbus stuttered to a 0-2-5 record at the beginning of the 2009 season, not winning their first match until May, and then unconvincingly.  Untidy on the ball and uncommitted defensively, Ekpo was presumably chosen by Warzycha because of the dearth of options in center mid.  The long-delayed inclusion of Adam Moffat, a “rugged” Scottish box-to-box player groomed by Schmid, came for 42 brief minutes in an April draw with Chicago before he was withdrawn due to a hamstring strain.  What turned the Crew’s season around was the pragmatic move of shifting Eddie Gaven from the wing to the middle of the field, thereby ensuring longer spells of possession and more incisive passes to and from Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

The 2009 season was, according to the statistics, a successful one.  The Crew again boasted the best record in the league, finding ways to win despite injuries and national team call-ups.  Yet for many Crew fans, 2009 was an ambivalent season.  The team struggled against lesser opponents in the regular season and playoffs and rarely dominated the tempo of matches as it had during the previous year.  The team’s attitude often appeared indifferent.  Being a fan of the 2009 Crew felt, for this writer at least, like dating an attractive, popular girl that never let me forget how privileged I was.

The midfield problems of last season, which directly contributed to the Crew’s disgraceful loss to Real Salt Lake, have yet to be addressed.  Brian Carroll and Adam Moffat, perfectly capable defensive midfielders, are defensive midfielders; pairing them together in the middle of the pitch leaves a dangerously large area of uncontested real estate for opposing midfielders to occupy.  Neither player creates, attacks or even holds, though I cannot blame those who are not given such responsibilities.  Warzycha has again assigned those duties to Schelotto, though the Argentine plays a forward, not a midfield, role.  The play comes to him, not through him.  Schelotto, too, is faultless; no one wants him to expend his energies chasing the ball.  While a 4-3-1-1 formation makes more sense with the Crew roster, with the reliably tireless and efficient Danny O’Rourke occupying the defensive midfield role, consigning Carroll and Moffat to the bench, and Schelotto toying with defenders just behind Steven Lenhart, Warzycha does not seem likely to adopt such a plan.  Instead, he continues to field a squad that loses the ball more than it retains it, yet ekes out victories like last week’s over arguably the worst team in the league, Toronto FC.

Before the summer transfer window opens and/or the frequent midfield giveaways begin resulting in losses, I would like to bring another Latin motto to Robert Warzycha’s attention: primum succerrere, which means “first, hasten to help.”

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