When the Columbus Crew front office replaced deposed head coach Robert Waryzcha with technical director Brian Bliss earlier this month, they said the coaching search would hopefully be finished by the end of the season.
After two weeks at the helm, Bliss is making the decision much more interesting. Bliss has won two of his first three matches after Warzycha’s departure, including a desperately needed three points against Houston and a stunning come-from-behind win in Montreal last weekend.
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The Crew is four points back of the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a home game against Chicago on Saturday that could put them right back in the thick of the postseason hunt.
In his introductory press conference, Bliss said that he was “here for the job and I want the job, and [club president and GM Mark McCullers and owner Anthony Precourt] know that,” but he said Tuesday that he can’t view each win as a necessity to his future.
“Obviously results help, but I can’t live like I’m on an eight-week try out,” he said. “I’d have an ulcer. That’s no way to live your life. I certainly can’t live that way, and neither can my family.”
For Bliss, who was an interim head coach in Kansas City in 2006, the sense of competing for a job has left his mind.
“When all of it breaks loose, you feel like you’re in an audition,” he told reporters after training on Tuesday. “Right now, I don’t look at it as an audition. I’m not saying we’ve done the work, we haven’t. But every day you’ve got to prove yourself as a coach and a player.
“I’m done with the mentality that I’m on trial,” he added. “I can only do so much, and at the end they have to look at it and say, ‘Was the work good enough or was it not good enough?'”
On the field, players seem to be responding well to Bliss’s intense, energy-focused style, and forward Dominic Oduro said that Bliss’s attitude has been well received, but that he can only do so much.
“He’s a great coach. He’s straightforward, that’s something you want from a coach,” Oduro said. “Regardless of how good he is or if he’s been good right now, it still boils down to the players. We’re accountable for whatever we do out on the field. The coach can put everything in place, but we have to go out and execute.”
While things seem to be looking up for the Crew, Bliss said that he has had minimal contact from the Columbus front office since his appointment, but that the lack of communication may not be a bad thing.
“There’s been very little communication from that side. I’m not saying that there should or shouldn’t be; I’m not being critical,” he said. “Maybe that’s designed by them to not interfere, or put any extra pressure on the group or myself. So maybe it’s by choice that they’re not constantly in contact.”
Midfielder Wil Trapp said that while the team has enjoyed Bliss’s leadership, their minds are still focused on the season.
“Right now, we’re not trying to think about that stuff,” he said. “But I think we’ve responded well to what he’s been doing. Guys are excited and guys are working hard… I think you have to start with the competitiveness and work rate in training, and I think he’s brought that out of us.”
But Trapp acknowledged that if the final five matches go well, the front office will have a very difficult task in choosing someone other than Bliss to move the team forward.
“We have to make a push for this playoff run, here,” Trapp said. “And if that happens, you never know. “