[MLS]Robert Warzycha, meet Bob Bradley and Peter Nowak. They won league championships in their rookie seasons as MLS head coaches, and neither had the luxury of taking over a team fresh off an MLS Cup triumph/Supporters' Shield double. Warzycha, 45, will start the 2009 season staring up at a bar set very high by departing head coach Sigi Schmid, who took Columbus all the way to its first MLS Cup in the final year of a contract he let expire before signing up with expansionist Seattle.
"My family and I have been with the Crew and called central Ohio home for the last 12 ½ years and I am looking forward to this next chapter, leading the club as its head coach," said Warzycha, who as a player joined the Crew in 1996 and finished his career in 2002. "I am proud to have been with the Crew since its first season and excited about the opportunity to lead it into its 14th [season] as MLS Cup champions."
Whether that title provides Warzycha a solid base to push for a second consecutive title or leaves him with a smug, overconfident bunch of players won't be known until a portion of the 2009 season have been played and the status of a few players is resolved.
German Second Division leader Mainz has declined to tender an offer for Defender of the Year Chad Marshall, who trained with the club and played in a "test" match against Darmstadt earlier this month. Crew management did shell out Designated Player money to retain Guillermo Barros Schelotto but wasn't prepared to out-bid Seattle for Schmid, whose preference to work on the West Coast most likely would have rendered any budding bidding war moot.
Schmid's extensive overhaul of the Crew roster - only Marshall, Frankie Hedjuk and midfielder Duncan Oughton were retained during his tenure - featured several key additions during each of his three seasons. Schmid didn't endear himself to every player - as on any team, a few chafed under the means and philosophies of the head coach - yet they rode out occasional rough patches and finished strongly.
Like Nowak, Warzycha is a former Polish international, having played 47 times for his country. That international experience and his long tenure with the team are sure to be tested in 2009. In addition to its league commitments, Columbus will play in the Concacaf Champions' League, which exposed three MLS teams in 2008; Chivas USA and New England faltered in the preliminary round and D.C. United stumbled in the group phase.
As per league policy, the terms of his contract weren't revealed. Schmid was earning about $175,000; Warzycha's deal is in the same range, but slightly less, according to a source.
During the drawn-out process to resolve Schmid's situation Crew general manager Mark McCullers cited several times he had a ready-made replacement in Warzycha, whose playing career in Poland, England, and Hungary included four seasons with Everton. In his MLS career, he played 160 games (fifth all-time among Crew players) and set a team record with 61 assists. He scored 19 goals in the regular season and two in the playoffs.
Several other potential candidates were contacted but none of them formally interviewed for the position.
"Robert's resume is impressive, from his playing experience in the English Premier League and at the international level to his experience playing and coaching in Major League Soccer," said McCullers. "He was influential in building our program and understands what has made us successful, but he also has the vision to put his stamp on this team with his own brand of soccer. He is one of the most knowledgeable soccer minds in our league and he's ready to assume the head coaching responsibilities of our club."