The only regret Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha has about the signing of Chris Birchall on May 7 is that it didn’t happen sooner.
“I wish he was here from the beginning of the season,” he lamented.
The Crew would loved to have slotted the former LA Galaxy into an injury-ravaged midfield from the onset as the team struggled through the first two months, but Birchall had been exploring other options after being released following the 2011 season.
Birchall, 28, played in 23 matches (17 starts) for the Galaxy last season when they won MLS Cup, but it became apparent to him that he was not in the designs of coach Bruce Arena and decided to return to England in hopes of finding another club somewhere.
However, he also knew of the Crew’s interest in him last season and was happy to finally get a deal done.
“I came here because it was a chance to play,” he said. “If I had stayed with Galaxy, I would have been in and out of the team with the amount of players Bruce wanted to bring in from what his plans were. It’s a chance to play consistent football.”
The Crew were 2-4-2 at the time of his signing and they’ve gone 10-7-2 since then. While the recent additions of forwards Jairo Arrieta and Designated Player Federico Higuaín have grabbed the headlines, Birchall’s steady play as a holding midfielder has made an impact as well.
“He’s been huge for us,” captain Chad Marshall said. “He’s a worker. The guy doesn’t stop running for the whole 90 minutes. That’s what you need in there. He’s a ball winner. He’s a complete player.”
Birchall, a member of the Trinidad and Tobago national team through his mother’s ancestry, has starts in 13 of his 14 Columbus appearances. He has tallied one goal in 2012, a game-winner against D.C. United on July 21, and has also chipped in with two assists.
“He’s the right guy for us because he works so hard,” Warzycha said. “One thing I remember about him from LA was he was a box-to-box guy. That’s what he’s giving us here. He never calculates or saves anything for the last minute. He always goes 100 percent.”
Birchall also brings championship experience to a club that has only five players left from Columbus' MLS Cup 2008-winning team.
“It’s always great to have someone who’s won in this league before,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “He knows what it takes, how much work and effort needs to be put into it. He leads by his effort, showing guys how to play if we want to win.”