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Crew finish training, look ahead to next season

OBETZ, Ohio – The Columbus Crew’s final training session of the year Friday was only 45 minutes long and eight days earlier than hoped.

Instead of preparing for Saturday’s Eastern Conference Championship against the San Jose Earthquakes (9:30 pm ET, FSC) and a berth in MLS Cup on Nov. 21 in Toronto, the players were left to ruminate on what went wrong after losing the conference semifinal to the Colorado Rapids on penalties last week.

“We’re more bummed out than anyone,” midfielder Duncan Oughton said. “The fans are mad but the people who are upset and annoyed the most are in the locker room. It’s good to have high expectations.”

Oughton is one of several 30-something veterans, including leading scorer Guillermo Barros Schelotto, awaiting their fates for next season. Schelotto cleaned out his locker at the training facility but hopes it’s not for the last time.

He hopes to know one way or another if he will be with the Crew in 2011 before he and his family return to Argentina for the offseason in about a week.

Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers, technical director Brian Bliss and head coach Robert Warzycha will make the personnel decisions as well as craft a philosophy for approaching next season.

In 2010, it was a goal to do as well as possible in the US Open Cup, CONCACAF Champions League and MLS play at the risk of being fatigued at the end.

The Crew made it to the Open Cup final for the first time since 2002 only to lose to Seattle, advanced out of group play to the quarterfinals of the CCL for the second straight year, and finished with 50 points in the league, second-most in club history.

“It’s been a solid year,” Oughton said.

The glut of games was good and bad. The Crew played the 2009-10 CCL quarterfinals in March against Toluca of Mexico and seemed to have an edge on the rest of MLS teams once the season began, as evidenced by their 6-0-2 start.

“We were definitely fitter than everyone else,” midfielder Kevin Burns said.

The downside was limping to the finish line for the second straight season because of the wear and tear of a congested schedule.

Next season, the Crew will benefit from the expanded roster as well as not playing in the 2011-12 CCL. However, they will face Real Salt Lake on Feb. 22 and March 1 in the 2010-11 quarterfinals.

Oughton hopes the series will give the Crew an advantage again MLS.

“It makes your preseason a little more intense early on,” he said. “We get some games in and know where we need to be for the start of the season. Most are teams started at a similar time but [CCL] games are more intense.”

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