Even a few scattered snow flurries couldn’t dampen the positive vibes inside the SuperKick/TeamZone facility on Thursday as the Columbus Crew opened preseason training amidst significantly less chaos than last season.
“We’re more at ease,” technical director Brian Bliss said. “There’s more of an idea what the roster probably will look like this far out than last year, when there was a lot of uncertainty.”
A major roster overhaul wasn’t the only challenge facing the Crew a year ago. The first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal was barely a month away on Feb. 22, and coach Robert Warzycha admitted there was pressure to have the first team ready at the expense of developing and integrating new players.
“Last year, we had to decide from the first or second day basically who is going to play,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “The preseason games we had, we were always trying to put out the first team and get them as many games as possible. Did it hurt us? Yes, because guys got injured because maybe it was a little too much in the beginning.”
Without any Champions League commitments this preseason and the season opener not until March 10, Warzycha hopes a less hurried camp will result in fewer injuries and more playing time for the young players.
“This year, we’re going to be very careful and do the work that is needed for us to play good,” he said.
And what a difference a year makes. The Crew’s biggest departures this offseason were forward Andrés Mendoza, midfielders Emmanuel Ekpo and Robbie Rogers, and defender Josh Gardner. Going into the 2011 season, half of the top 18 players had to be replaced.
While the two biggest 2012 additions – midfielder Milovan Mirosevic from Chile and Costa Rican forward Olmán Vargas – have not yet arrived from their countries, newcomers such as former New York Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes, Home Grown products including goalkeeper Matt Lampson and forward Ben Speas, and first-round SuperDraft pick midfielder Ethan Finlay participated in their first workouts.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for awhile,” Speas said.
- Midfielder Rich Balchan is still experiencing pain from sports hernia surgery in November and did not practice.
- Goalkeeper William Hesmer tweaked his left ankle, but it’s not a serious injury.
- Forward Tommy Heinemann is cleared to practice after undergoing surgery on his right foot. He will be used sparingly on the turf until the team heads to Bradenton, Fla., on Jan. 31.
- Forward Emilio Rentería (Venezuela), defender Julius James (Trinidad and Tobago) and midfielder Dilly Duka (US U-23) are away with their national teams.
- Former Marshall forward John Daniele is a non-roster invitee.
- Forward Travis Wall of nearby Ohio Wesleyan University is trying out and is a Home Grown Player candidate.
- Trialist forward Nermin Crnkic of the Michigan Wolves and the Crew Soccer Academy is expected next week.
- Along with Finlay, Columbus' other two SuperDraft selections – midfielder Kevan George and defender Aubrey “Tre” Perry – trained.
- Kirk Urso was the only one of the four Supplemental Draft picks in Columbus.
- Midfielder Andrew Bulls will arrive this weekend, while defender Jamie Finch and forward Darren Amoo will join the team in Florida along with trialists such as Jamaican defender Lance Laing and Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Silvio Spann.