Crew, Crystal Palace each see multiple benefits from friendly
While Wednesday evening's friendly between the Crew and Barclays Premier League side Crystal Palace FC is just that – a friendly – it has a wealth of importance for both sides. So much, in fact, that Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter called the contest a "win-win."
"It gives our fans an opportunity to see a Premiership team, and I think that's fantastic," said the Crew boss. "They get to see how we stack up against a Premiership team."
Although the match comes in the midst of a heavy stretch of League action for the Black & Gold, Berhalter said that was of no concern and offered an interesting way to look at the international friendly as his team gears up for New England on Saturday.
"We're using this as a very hard training session. We could do fitness or we could play a game in front of however many thousand people against a Premiership team. It's a great opportunity for our group."
While Berhalter said that he would field a "strong lineup" despite giving some regulars a rest, he also offered the positives of being able to give some different squad members playing time, such as the Crew loanees who have been suiting up for the Dayton Dutch Lions.
"We're able to give guys like Ross Friedman some game time, Matt Wiet, and then other guys who haven't gotten much game time. They get to step on the field and compete."
For Friedman, Wiet or Matt Walker, an appearance Wednesday would mark the first time that they have pulled on the club shirt and played a match at Crew Stadium.
"It would be a dream come true," said Friedman. "In terms of playing against a Premier League team, that's a dream. I'm really excited about that."
Friedman went on to recall similar international friendlies that the club took place in during preseason.
"It was a great experience in preseason being able to play against Malmö from Sweden. They had Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] go through their system, they had some Swedish national team guys – you got a picture of what it looks like to play against these top European teams. I know the English style is different, but I'm really excited to be playing against these big-time players and going out there and just competing, trying to prove myself."
For Crystal Palace, the match serves as an important tune-up as the London-based club prepares for the Barclays Premier League season. The club's captain, Mile Jedinak (who also served as Australia's captain at the 2014 FIFA World Cup), expressed the importance of the Eagles' trip to the United States in terms of accomplishing their goals for the upcoming season.
"First and foremost, it's just trying to build on how we finished off last season. Part of coming here is going to benefit us in doing that. Preseason's normal, you need to work hard, but coming over here in the heat and the climate is going to benefit us even more. We want to build on what we did last year and show that it wasn't a one-off."
Jedinak also offered strong praise for the city, which is the first stop in the Eagles' tour of America that will continue in Philadelphia and Richmond.
"I know a little bit about MLS … I know Columbus has been around for a while in MLS. Now that we're here and we can put a face to the club, it's great. [Columbus has] welcomed us with open arms and that's been really helpful. We're all grateful for allowing us to use [the Crew's] facilities while we've been here."
Club manager Tony Pulis is familiar with Columbus as well. That's because he managed Stoke City when the Potters visited Crew Stadium in the summer of 2012, a match that he remembers well ahead of preparing his side for Wednesday's encounter.
"We want to win and give a good performance. I think it's important that we do that," said Pulis. "The lads have only played 45 minutes of football so far, so we know it's going to be tough. Columbus are a decent team. We played them last time when I was at Stoke and we were very fortunate to not get really beaten badly, because they played really well that day. I've told the lads that they will find this game difficult."