By Casey Ward
After 430 minutes of error-prone, pig-ugly soccer, the Columbus Crew coaching staff made a bold decision on Saturday evening. Instead of settling for a 2-2 draw or hoping for a miraculous alchemy from the base elements on field, Warzycha and company substituted forward Jason Garey for left-back Gino Padula. The latter received an ovation as he left the field, having played relatively well, but the fans were audibly excited by the surprisingly aggressive move. An even smarter move (and one that should have come weeks earlier) was made only minutes later when Adam Moffat, lucky to have received only one yellow card on the night, was mercifully taken off and replaced by offensive sparkplug Emmanuel Ekpo.
Garey and Ekpo had been key to our success last season, the former especially so. During a time of injuries and national team call-ups, Garey combined with Steven Lenhart for some of the most exciting and bruising soccer Crew fans have ever witnessed, earning them the affectionate label, “The Bash Brothers.” Despite seeing the field eleven times less than Lenhart last season, he still tallied more goals. He moves intelligently off-the-ball, has pace to beat most defenders and remains unselfish in and around the box, even when his chances to score are severely reduced by coaching decisions. His size, of course, works against him (he is only six feet and 180 lbs.). But when insightful passers and skilled dribblers buzz around the pitch, as Ekpo, Eddie Gaven, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Robbie Rogers did for twenty-plus minutes on Saturday, size becomes irrelevant.
To better illustrate how Garey facilitated the Crew victory on Saturday, as well as to substantiate my claim that he should be in the starting line-up every game – home or away – I have recorded his every significant move from the moment of his substitution (thanks be to DVR).
Garey enters for Gino Padula
First touch – a smooth give-and-go that Rogers fails to reciprocate
Early run into box that Schelotto barely misses with his cross
Tracks down loose ball in Crew half; holds until Hejduk makes himself available
Open in box, but Schelotto’s pass weakly struck
Receives difficult Ekpo pass with inside of right foot, juggles, then hopefully flicks on with his left foot for Schelotto
Challenges Preston Burpo for a brilliantly disguised Gaven cross, which causes the keeper to fumble. Inexplicably, the referee blows his whistle
Cuts diagonally outside the box to received threaded Ekpo pass, which he one-times to Schelotto, who swivels and lays off to the onrushing Hejduk, who cuts a parallel ball for Lenhart to smash just wide of the post
Tracks down deflected Schelotto cross in the box, settles, then deftly chips in for Lenhart behind the backline, only for Burpo to beat him to the ball
Sweeps a Hejduk cross on the volley across the box, but Lenhart a step too slow
Heads flawless Schelotto ball towards bottom left corner of goal, which keeper and defender together manage to keep off the line but not off the foot of Rogers, who bundles the game-winning goal into the net
Chips over defender in Crew half to create a breakaway for himself; once in the box, he jukes and leaves behind Corey Gibbs, only to hit the side netting
Splits two defenders effortlessly 40 yards out, slots ball across the 18-yard box to an open Gaven who connects well but steers ball wide of right post
As readers can see, and as Crew fans realized last year, Garey frequently creates chances to score, works tirelessly for his teammates and, more importantly, makes Crew Stadium hum with excitement. The only losses of possession that he was responsible for were efforts on goal. Further, his enthusiasm and ability are economic stimuli. Playing the same drab formation with the same drab players (I’m looking at you, Moffat) fends off those fans willing to brave cold and windy nights in mid-Ohio. If the Crew brass is embarrassed by its low numbers at the gates, it should not turn to its products off the field, such as gimmicky promotions, until it addresses the product on the field.
Casey Ward is an unabashed fan of Major League Soccer. He has a BA from Michigan State University and an MFA from Ohio State University. He can be reached at email@example.com