The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup takes on a different importance to each MLS coach. Some use it as a chance to rotate in reserves, giving them a chance to play. Others treat it like a League match, rolling out full-strength lineups from the opening match. Others hybridize the two, slowly playing a more full-strength lineup the deeper their club goes.
Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter would not divulge his exact strategy against Indy Eleven in the club's Cup opener, but one thing's for sure: he wants to win this match.
"I think it’s what lineup you choose to go with. Do you choose to play a new group, a different group and see how that goes? But you still want to be able to compete. That’s the most important thing. You’re going out there to be competitive and win the game.
"I think we’re going to play a good lineup," continued Berhalter. "We want to get guys up in Akron, we want to play in front of a different fanbase and we to have a good game and represent the Crew well."
The match is set to take place at the University of Akron's FirstEnergy Stadium, and to be live-streamed here on TheCrew.com. Berhalter explained that his team is excited to play in an intimate venue, and he anticipates a good atmosphere.
"It’s a premier college soccer venue in Ohio," said the Crew boss. "[Akron] has been performing at a really high level for a lot of years. They have a really good fanbase. We specifically want to target Cleveland and Akron. We have a close lineage with Akron because of some former players of theirs. We think it’s a good opportunity to be in the state of Ohio and perform in front of a different fanbase."
Some injuries figure to limit Berhalter's options somewhat. Wil Trapp and Federico Higuain remain out, as do Matt Lampson, Brad Stuver, Agustin Viana and Fifi Baiden. Additionally, new acquisition Alvaro Rey is still working on securing his work visa.
Indy Eleven, meanwhile, comes to Akron with a roster that includes former FIFA World Cup winner Kleberson, and Montreal Impact loanee Blake Smith.
"We’ve watched three games of theirs. We’re taking it seriously in terms of preparation," said Berhalter. "They’re a decent team, a good team. It’ll be a tough game. You see how the results have been going. If you don’t show up, you’re not winning the game. That’s the message to the guys. If we think we’re just going to be on the field, participate and win, it’s not happening."
With the Crew being off last week due to the FIFA World Cup break, this match also offers a good opportunity to help the team regain its legs as the MLS schedule resumes shortly.
"We’re taking it game-by-game. One issue you have with the tournament is the travel. We’re lucky enough this round to not have extensive travel. We’re fortunate. We’ve been off for a week, so it’s a good opportunity for us to get guys in and get them game-fitness again."