On the morning of July 14, the Columbus Crew were looking very much like the team most expected them to look like. They were sitting at 6-6-4 with an even goal-difference. The playoffs were a possibility, but hardly assured. They were competitive, but not particularly interesting. Put another way, they were the exact kind of team you'd expect to see with Robert Warzycha on the sideline.
A subtle change occurred that night.
Arrieta's influence showed up in a big way the next game, as he assisted on the Crew's lone goal in 1-0 win over D.C. United. That game proved to be the tip o the iceberg.
Arrieta scored a pair of goals in the Crew's next game to lead them to a 2-1 over Sporting Kansas City. He has now scored five goals with a pair of assists. More importantly, the Crew have gone 6-2-2 in games he's played and now find themselves in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Since adding Federico Higuain as a Designated Player, the numbers are even more pronounced. the Crew have gone 4-0-1 and scored 12 goals in games Higuain has played.
Don't look now, but the Crew might just be the most interesting team in the East ... and maybe even the best.
With Higuain and Arrieta forming the focal point of their attack, the Crew have been downright fun. In the 10 matches in which at least one of them has played, the Crew have scored 16 goals. That's just one fewer than they scored in the previous 16 matches.
Higuain has provided the kind of service the Crew have lacked since Guillermo Barros Schelotto started to show his age. In just five games, he already has three goals and six assists, which is twice as many as any other player on the team. In every game he's played, Higuain has provided a goal or an assist. All of them have either given the Crew the lead or tied the match.
In his short time, Higuain has already proven himself to be an assassin on free kicks, scoring two goals and assisting on another. In the run of play, he's been equally adept spotting teammates with throughballs and crosses.
Arrieta's contribution has not been as extreme, but he has given the Crew another speedy option to go along with the likes of Emilio Renteria, who seems to be perpetually failing to live up to his promise.
Combined, they have made the Crew into an eminently likable team, something that was starting to seem impossible. When we were once resigned to watching the Crew attempt to suck the life out of every game with the hope of pulling out a 1-0 win, they are suddenly running up and down the field with almost reckless abandon. Sure, their defense has taken a bit of a hit, as they are allowing more than .5 goals more per game in their last five, but their offense has more than made up for that.
Suddenly a player like Milovan Mirosevic, who has been a disappointment most of this season, looks perfectly useful as more of a deep-lying central midfielder. After scoring three goals in his past five matches, Eddie Gaven is enjoying his best season since 2005 and is finally looking like the player that burst onto the scene with seven goals and seven assists as an 18-year-old.
This is all coming while other teams in the East are not looking quite so stable.
It's probably too much to call the Crew the best team in the East right now, but no one wants to play them and everyone should be watching them.