OBETZ, Ohio – The days of wearing name tags are over, but what the Crew need the final two weeks of preseason is more time together.
With half of the 30-man roster new to the team, the top priorities as Columbus headed to Atlanta on Friday afternoon are getting healthy and bonding.
“We’ve got a lot of guys learning each other and learning the league,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “Chemistry is everything in this game, especially in the final and critical moments such as defending an attack, and you know who's going to be where and what to expect from your teammates.”
In the middle of preparation for the season opener on March 19 at D.C. United, the Crew were eliminated from CONCACAF Champions League play. After a scoreless draw vs. Real Salt Lake at home on Feb. 22 to open the quarterfinal matchup, the Crew lost 4-1 on Tuesday in Sandy, Utah.
“If we play like we did in the first half in Columbus, we’ll do very well,” defender Sebastian Miranda said. “Salt Lake is a very good team, but by the time the season comes around, we will be gelled and the chemistry better.”
[inline_node:329731]The Champions League games were a curse and a blessing.
Rookies such as Rich Balchan, Cole Grossman and Justin Meram accelerated their growth by playing games at a higher standard than the five preseason games in Arizona.
“It’s a different level, but at the same time, you have the adrenaline going and you kind of settle in,” Meram said.
The problem was the games interrupted training vital to a team easing in so many new faces, including eight rookies.
Friday’s session in rainy, 40-degree conditions at the Obetz facility was only the sixth full-squad practice since Feb. 17 – the last time much of the roster played in a friendly.
“We need to take these two weeks and keep moving from there,” assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren said. “We have to use this time to try to get everybody together as best we can for the first game.”
At least some players are back from injury. Hesmer (right shoulder fracture) and backup Andy Gruenebaum (hip) trained Friday after not playing against Real Salt Lake.
Defenders Chad Marshall (concussion) and Shaun Francis (hamstring) ran but did not participate in practice. They missed the CCL series, too. It is not known if they will play against New England on Sunday in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The goal is pretty simple for the next two weeks, said Miranda.
“Obviously be healthy and get to know each other better," he noted. "We need the veterans to also provide good role models to the other guys.”