Thursday began with the Black & Gold assembling at Crew Stadium to board a bus for Port Columbus International Airport in the frigid cold of the Midwest, and ended with a late afternoon training session in the dwindling sunlight of Brandenton, Fla. after few hours between flights and rest at the team hotel. The first practice of the Crew's preseason trip to IMG Academy consisted of light conditioning and a few possession drills.
"It was good to get off the plane, get your legs stretched out and get all the aches out from the turf yesterday," defender Josh Williams said after the session. "I think today was a relaxed day to get everybody out to meet everybody and have a little bit of fun with possession drills."
Thursday's training in Bradenton was a welcome change from the indoor start to the preseason in Columbus.
"It was good just to get off the turf," Williams said. "To come out and feel the grass, just the way the ball moves is a lot different than turf. The game moves a lot faster."
While a few spring invitees joined the team today and are fighting for a spot on the roster, players already under contract like Williams are working to solidify their spot in the Crew lineup during the trip to Bradenton.
"It's all about getting comfortable with your teammates and figuring out who's playing where," Williams explained. "There's still some guys who can play in different positions, like myself, but I think right now you want to come in with the attitude to win a position. For guys like myself who have only been around a couple of years, spots aren't guaranteed."
The Crew will train twice tomorrow before kicking off its first friendly of the preseason Saturday at 11 a.m. against D.C. United.
Wednesday was supposed to be a day off for Crew Homegrown midfielder Wil Trapp. After spending the past eight days in Puebla, Mexico at United States U-20 National Team where he also played all 90 minutes in two friendlies against Panama, a day of rest made sense for the 20-year-old MLS rookie upon returning to Columbus Tuesday evening.
"It's been a quick turnaround, but it's nice to get in with the team before we head down to Florida," Trapp said. "It's nice, I'm excited to get going.
"The layovers weren't the best and whenever you travel there's a little jetlag involved, but luckily the time difference wasn't too bad. I'm still young. I can handle it."
There was no pressure on Trapp from Technical Director Brian Bliss to attend Wednesday's training session in Lewis Center, who was surprised to see Trapp in the mix when he arrived.
"Anytime a National Team player returns from a camp and he's been taxed as they usually are with travel, training and games, you usually like to give them some time off," Bliss said. "Wil was eager to get after it and acclimate to his new teammates. He wanted to get right in there and mix it up with our guys and decided not to take that extra day off. With all the travel and the games he looked pretty sharp today."
Trapp will likely return to Puebla with the U-20s in February in preparation for the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in an effort to qualify for the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey this summer.
"It was good to get used to the altitude down there because it's going to be the same for Qualifying," Trapp said. "We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish [in team camp]. The results weren't the best, but it happens.
"I think we're doing well. We have a few injuries, but I think everyone will be healthy to qualify and move on to the World Cup."
Trapp and the Crew will travel to Brandenton, Fla. on Thursday for their first preseason camp.
Crew striker Jairo Arrieta and Costa Rica completed group play in the 2013 Copa Centroamericana Tuesday night with a 1-1 draw against Guatemala. Arrieta tallied his second goal of the tournament in the 12th minute to help La Sele finish at the top of Group A.
The Ticos will resume play in the semifinal of the tournament against El Salvador on Friday. Costa Rica previously claimed a spot in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup with its 2-0 win over Nicaragua on Sunday. Cities and venues for the 2013 Gold Cup will be announced on Wednesday.
In some post-training banter on Monday, Crew captain Chad Marshall jokingly asked Tony Tchani to talk in his best American accent.
"Hey mate!" Tchani exclaimed jokingly with his distinct French inflection.
While Tchani's accent sets him appart, the Cameroonian-born midfielder is now an official American citizen. Tchani moved to the U.S. with his mother as a teenager and recently passed his citizenship exam to officially attain a United States passport last week.
Tchani was given studying materials beforehand, but the test to become a U.S. citizen came easy to the 23-year-old midfielder.
"They gave me a book of like 100 practice questions and I was supposed to get six out of 10 right," Tchani said. "I got the first six right and they told me it was over. I got a sheet saying 'Congratulations.' "
It is official!! #ThankGod
— Tony Tchani (@TonyTchani23) January 15, 2013
Tchani is in his second full season with the Crew and his fourth in MLS.
Costa Rica solidified its place in the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup with a 2-0 win against Nicaragua on Sunday night. Crew striker Jairo Arrieta entered the match as a 66th minute substitute on Sunday after providing the difference-maker in Friday's 1-0 victory over Belize.
With the win, La Sele sits atop Group A in Copa Centroamericano. The TIcos will complete group play Tuesday night against second-place Guatemala.
MATCH REPORT: Costa Rica 2 - Nicaragua 0
Costa Rica kicked off play in the 2013 Copa Centroamericano late Friday night, with Crew striker Jairo Arrieta providing the difference in the host country's 1-0 victory over Belize. Arrieta's 55th minute tally was his first goal for La Sele in five career caps.
The Ticos will resume play in the tournament on Sunday against Nicaragua. Copa Centroamericano runs until January 27 and the top five teams in the seven-team tournament qualify for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. However, Arrieta may not report to Crew training camp at that point as La Sele begins the Hexagonal round of 2014 World Cup Qualifying in Panama on February 6.
Match Report: Costa Rica 1 - Belize 0 (in Spanish)
Photo Credit: Imagenesencostarica.com
The Crew technical staff has arrived in Indianapolis looking to improve its roster in Thursday's 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Technical Director Brian Bliss is pleased with the talent pool he and the rest of the staff observed at the MLS Player Combine in Fort Lauderdale over the last five days.
"Obviously, we were able to see quite a bit [in Fort Lauderdale] over the five days and three games," Bliss said on Wednesday. "A lot of it is confirmation of what we've seen from a good percentage of the players during the college season. It was a good chance to re-confirm what we do and learn a little bit about the guys that we don't know that much about from schools on the West Coast."
While Bliss and the Crew brass are prepared to select ninth overall in the SuperDraft on Thursday, the Crew could still explore making other transactions in Indianapolis to either acquire established MLS talent or move up in the Draft order.
Trade rumors have already begun to swirl as the Chicago Fire has reportedly traded its First Round pick and allocation money to the Colorado Rapids for midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. Other deals will likely be made, and Bliss is still considering all options for the Black & Gold.
"There are some trade possibilities," Bliss explained. "Obviously, we've got a couple players that have drawn some interest from some other teams that could potentially help us move up in the Draft. We can package some things together with players and picks. We have some flexibility."
Former Crew midfielder and United States International Robbie Rogers will not return to English Championship side Leeds United after his loan to Stevenage in England's Third Division expired on Wednesday. Should Rogers decide to return to MLS, the Crew currently hold his rights. The Crew could look to trade those rights ahead of the SuperDraft.
"Everybody knows now that Robbie [Rogers] is available because he's terminated his contract with Leeds," Bliss said. "There are some assets there that we have that are pretty attractive and we could possibly make a deal on Draft day."
The 2013 MLS SuperDraft begins at noon ET on Thursday and will be streamed globally via ESPN3, ESPN FC, MLSsoccer.com and YouTube.
After signing as the fifth Homegrown player in Crew history, University of Akron standout Chad Barson joined TheCrew.com's Cody Sharrett for a short Q&A.
Cody Sharrett: Congratulations on signing with the Crew. How do you plan on contributing to the Black & Gold as a rookie?
Chad Barson: I think I bring a good work ethic. I have a good mentality in the way I approach things. I'm willing to contribute, and I'm a team guy. I put the team first. I'll put the team's needs above my own and whatever they need, that's what I'm willing to do.
CS: You've been captain for the past two seasons at Akron and as a centerback, you have to be a leader on the field. How do you approach being a leader as a rookie?
CB: You have to be yourself. You can't be shy. As a rookie, you're stepping into uncharted territory and just because you're the young guy or the new guy, it doesn't matter how long you've been around. Obviously guys that have been around have more say, but you still need to be able to lead, to talk and to organize guys because the position I play, you see the whole game from where you play.
CS: Your coach at Akron, Caleb Porter, has moved on to the Portland TImbers in MLS. How did he develop your game over the past four years at Akron.
CB: Basically, I like to say everything about my game is a result of Coach Porter. The way we trained at Akron, the mentality he teaches you how to approach life, how to approach school, how to approach soccer: it's really all from him. I see a lot of him in myself. When I talk, when I play, just everything really.
CS: You were born and raised in Columbus. Do you remember your first Crew game? Which players did you look up to?
CB: I don't remember my first Crew game. But watching guys like [Brian] McBride, [Brian] Maisonneuve and Jeff Cunningham, I remember watching those guys all the time when I was younger.
CS: Over the past few summers, you've spent time training with the First Team. Who is the toughest guy you've had to defend?
CB: Honestly size-wise, Andy Iro and Chad Marshall because they're some pretty big guys. I'd also throw Steve Lenhart in there because he's such a scrappy guy and he likes to be physical, but he's also a great guy.
To help prepare for MLS First Kick on March 2 against Chivas USA in Carson, Calif., the Crew will get its first game action of 2013 when it takes on Eastern Conference foes D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls during preseason training in Bradenton, Fla.
The Black & Gold square off against United on Saturday, January 26 at 11:00 a.m. before it takes on the Red Bulls on Friday, February 1 at time that is yet to be determined. The club already had a previously scheduled exhibition against the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, January 30, giving the Black & Gold a trio of friendlies against some of their oldest rivals.
All three games will be held at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. The club's full preseason schedule includes two separate trips to Florida, with stage two taking place at the Disney Pro Classic in Orlando from February 6 through February 24.
New England Revolution defender Stephen McCarthy changed his number from 26 to 15 ahead of the 2013 MLS season in honor of late Crew midfielder Kirk Urso, who passed away due to a congenital heart defect on August 5, 2012. McCarthy and Urso were teammates for two seasons at the University of North Carolina, helping the Tar Heels to an appearance in the 2010 College Cup after McCarthy missed 2009 due to injury.
McCarthy transferred to UNC from Santa Clara in January 2009 and just as he did when Ben Speas landed at North Carolina in 2011, Urso was the first Tar Heel to make an impression on McCarthy.
"I transferred in and my first memory of [Urso] really stuck. I was a transfer coming in and it was my first day of training -- it wasn't even a real training it was just kind of a kick-around in the gym -- there were no coaches there and we just played small-sided games," McCarthy recalled. "Kirk was just so serious. Every ball, he was going so hard and going after tackles. In my head I was thinking 'This guy is crazy.' I didn't think I liked him very much when I first met him."
He continued, "As my playing went on with him and I got to see who he was off the field as well as on the field, I started to realize how good of a human being he was. He was the most serious player I think I've ever played with because he wanted to win so badly on the field. And then when you got off the field he was just the nicest guy. He was the smartest, the best student on our team. I had some classes with him, he helped me in school as well as on the field. When I transferred, he was always happy to be around and hang out and talk. We kept in touch when I went to New England and he went to Columbus as well. It's tough."
In sports, a player is almost as identifiable by his or her number as they are by name. After all, McCarthy incorporated his number into his Twitter handle: @BigMacca26.
Heading into his third season in MLS, McCarthy will no longer don the number 26, but instead play in his dear friend's memory with the number 15 on his back.
"I was just thinking of Kirk, and I just thought [changing to number 15] would be something nice to do for him and his family as well as for me because I want to keep him in my mind all the time," he explained.
"It's going to be important to me because I'm not just playing for me, but for him as well," he continued. "I want to be playing even harder for that reason."
Number 15 to honor my friend Kirk Urso. He will have my back all season
— Stephen McCarthy (@BigMacca26) January 7, 2013
The Kirk Urso Memorial Fund was established by the Crew Soccer Foundation in late 2012 to provide a platform to develop and support youth heart health research and programming to honor Urso's memory. The Fund is in partnership with the Children’s Heart Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing health, hope and happiness to children impacted by congenital heart defects by funding the most promising research to advance diagnosis, treatment and prevention.