The Crew trained Monday and Tuesday mornings as if nothing happened since their last practice a week earlier.
Of course, everything had.
Instead of gearing up for the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Sporting Kansas City, the Crew were thinking of next year as they gathered here at their suburban Columbus facility.
A 1-0 loss at Colorado in last Thursday’s wild card match ended the Crew's season prematurely, but did not stop the workouts that will continue through Nov. 20.
“We are not keeping them here because of punishment,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “We need to get better. I can tell you it’s not good if they go on vacation for three months. No one country has that much time off. That’s why it’s important to me to keep them active.”
Warzycha cited the remarks last month of new US national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann that MLS teams need to play more matches and have too much of an offseason.
“If you listen to the national team coach’s comments, we need to do more,” he said. “I think everyone else [in MLS] is doing the same.”
The players might be dreaming of getting away to warmer climates for a break, but know that’s not a possibility yet.
“It’s hard training when we don’t have any more games,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said. “Having said that, this is our job. This is what we do for a living.”
There is one incentive for some of the players: a reserve match vs. D.C. United that is yet to be rescheduled from Oct. 2.
The Crew (8-1, 24 points) hold a six-point lead over D.C. (5-0-3, 18) in the East Division, although D.C. also have a game left vs. New York. If United win out, they win the division because they beat the Crew at home earlier this season. A Crew win would also better the Seattle Sounders' 25 points for the most in the league.
“It’s a pretty big thing,” defender Josh Williams said. “We take it seriously in the locker room. Our record shows that.”
Feeling blue over red
Starting midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo watched the Colorado match online with dread as it unfolded because a second yellow card late in the regular-season finale at Chicago on Oct. 22 earned him a suspension vs. the Rapids.
“It was very tough watching my teammates working so hard and not being able to help out,” he said. “It’s a bad feeling. I have to blame [myself] because of the red card I had in Chicago. It was uncalled for. I should have thought about the game against Colorado before moving in for the tackle.”