Columbus trains for the 10K

This is the post where we get to impress Beau Dure by using the word "myriad" correctly. Back when the A-League wasn't just for Australians, a start-up soccer organization with the placeholder name "Major League Soccer" asked for season ticket deposits, to gauge interest in various cities.  The record has since been broken by various MLS 2.0 cities, but Columbus was far and away the winner.

Columbus also built the largest soccer-specific stadium in the country...another record that has since been surpassed, but they were the first team in MLS to do it.  (Blackbaud Stadium, from what I gather an altogether charming and wonderful facility, opened a month earlier, with one-quarter of the capacity, but that should be enough to call this claim into question.)

So when I read that the Crew were now the least popular team in the league, with an average attendance of just over a myriad, I was delighted.

Because I've always HATED the Crew.

No, because, was a time when having 10,000 people as the bottom of the attendance totals would have been cause for celebration.  And despite the occasional misguided assumptions from people like Jamie Trecker, I think the Crew have the history and the foundation to recover from their current woes.  After all, the Crew are the first openly professional team in Columbus.

(No, I will never get tired of making fun of Ohio State.)

As a Weird Al fan, I think "Dare to be Massive" sounds way too close to "Dare to be Stupid," and I would have chosen a different slogan, but who am I to argue with Clark Hunt?  No one, that's who.

But having just watched the Crew bungle a crucial game at home against the Galaxy's bench - nothing against the Galaxy's backups, they are very, very good - but still - I think there's only so much marketing can do for the Crew.

The problem is that Columbus is an Original Nine city.  Their fans, like Joni Mitchell, have seen clouds from both sides now.  It's one thing to win unglamorously - the "Hardest Working Team" slogan implied that Crew fans were fine with that.  But by now, Crew fans can tell when their alleged first place team is a boring, badly-coached fraud.  By this point, Columbus fans are going to support a team, it's going to have to be worth the drive.

Club ownership and league management seems to think Crew attendance is a concern outside of the product on the field.  Well, they'd know more than I would, I suppose.

But let's say in the offseason this campaign succeeds, and the Crew get 10,000 season ticket holders.  Nay!  TWENTY thousand!  Twenty thousand people sick of NCAA hypocrisy, unenchanted by hockey, and desperate to get away from the high school show choirs that apparently infest every small town in Ohio.  (Unless "Glee" has lied to me?)  All eager to support the Hardest Working Team in Central Ohio.  It's now Opening Day, 2012, Columbus Crew Stadium is packed to the gills with new recruits and lapsed fans.

And let's say the Crew put on a performance like Saturday.

"Well, the team is bleah, but they sure seem to have fun in the northeast corner.  Let's keep going to games.  Maybe the team will get better."  That's a possible response.  I hope it's the actual response.  I'm just very skeptical.  And it's going to make the next big marketing push - "Okay, THIS time we're REALLY Massive!" - that much more difficult.

If you want people to be impressed with you, beat Toronto.  (Oh, sorry - I was talking to the Galaxy.)

Speaking of teams who are fighting for playoff berths which would extend their season by one game at the most - New York might not be drawing the right lesson from their victory without Rafa Marquez.

We've all heard by now that Marquez has served a one-game suspension for nothing more than telling the truth.  Or, it would have been the truth, if Marquez had been putting in the sort of performances that would justify claiming to be much better than his teammates.  Whether through indifference or incompetence, Marquez richly earned the boos he received in Harrison last week - let alone the reception he'll get when he plays again in Red Bull Arena.  Assuming he ever does.

Without Marquez, the Red Bulls did something highly unusual for them - win.  And with winning comes self-delusion:

Instead of letting the distractions get the best of them, the Red Bulls put the Real Salt Lake loss and the Márquez suspension behind them to get a valuable win in their race for the playoffs. It was never going to be an issue for this side, Ream said, painting the issue as more of a media frenzy then anything disruptive in the locker room.

“It [Márquez controversy] was all encompassing for you guys. When it happened, we had a meeting right away and it was past us,” Ream said. “Pretty simple – just put it behind us and focused in training yesterday and really came out tonight and put our heads down and went after it.”

...then why was Rafa suspended, Tim? Someone wasn't cool with what he said.

Okay, I realize that Ream is taking the high road here, but it just insults everyone's intelligence to pretend that the media created this.  That was a camera in Marquez' face, not a gun.

Keel put in a dominating performance in what was just his 12th game and ninth start of the season. A bit of a journeyman, Keel won all his battles against the Timbers' frontline with sound positioning and good, solid decision-making. His play meant that the Red Bulls hardly missed Márquez, their designated player and the captain of the Mexican national team.

“You need that kind of central defender in the MLS, a center back who is a kind of a cleaner, battles all the time, go for headers and not give the striker too much time to control the ball" Red Bulls manager Hans Backe said.

Well, geez, Keel should be awesome, what with the $5 million salary he's getting.  Backe didn't come right out and say "unlike certain people I could name," but I don't think he had to. no one going to say that Real Salt Lake is a lot better than Portland, and that the main reason New York won is that the Timbers are godawful on the road?

The clean sheet and the dominating win – the Timbers had just three shots on goal in the game – was a team defensive effort from the Red Bulls who answered all their critics, even those in their own locker room, with the shutout.

“Honestly, I think it would have happened even if the comments weren’t made," said central defender Tim Ream, who was a target of Márquez's remarks. "After you take a solid 3-1 beating, you have something to prove. We wanted to prove it was a fluke and that wasn’t who we are. We put our heads down more because of the way we played [on Wednesday], not because of the comments.”

Apparently not.

Playoffs are tricky things - New York and Columbus know that as much as any team in the league.  So you can't say "It would be better for such and such team to miss the playoffs entirely," because you never know when your mediocre team will go on a winning streak.  (I'm not referring to Salt Lake or Colorado here.  Although if the Rapids would like to start proving that last year wasn't a ridiculous fluke, anytime now would be nice.)

But if a good playoff run is an excuse to paper over flaws, then it really can do as much harm as good - or more.  It happened to DC United (twice, after 1999 and 2004), it happened to the Galaxy after 2005, and it happened to the Red Bulls after they believed they were a legitimate MLS Cup contender in 2008.  If you were making a list of teams that would be better to take a realistic look than waste time printing playoff tickets, you'd start with Columbus and the Red Bulls.