One preseason match down, three to go. With the 2016 Major League Soccer season approaching quickly, Crew SC is preparing by competing in the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Arizona. After a 2-2 draw with Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday, the Black & Gold are set to face Real Salt Lake at 7 p.m. Saturday (live at ColumbusCrewSC.com).
Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says the team’s current performance level is meeting his expectations.
“The guys put in a good effort, and you can see the competitive juices start flowing when we’re in competition,” Berhalter says. “So we’re looking forward to continue this preseason and get in some more competitive games.”
Defender Hector Jimenez, who featured at left-mid on Wednesday, says the level of competitiveness has been raised by Crew SC’s off-season additions.
“We’ve added some really talented players and we have all eleven starters back from MLS Cup,” he says. “We definitely have a better depth this year, which makes everything a lot better competitively. Everyone’s fighting for minutes and everyone’s fighting for a starting spot.”
One of the many benefits of preseason is experimenting with different lineups. Columbus featured 22 different players on the pitch Wednesday night, providing Berhalter and his coaching staff with the opportunity to consider different options.
“Both of those lineups had consistent starters, so you’re able to see what guys who haven’t been consistent starters look like with that group,” Berhalter says. “We’re looking to see if guys are making progress and learning the system, and developing from year to year and from week to week even.”
As players are competing for positions and minutes, Berhalter is stressing that nothing’s set in stone right now.
“By playing a mixed lineup, it gives us the chance to see players in starting roles and in reserve roles, and how they can perform with a different combination of players,” he says. “I think it’s a benefit as we move forward in camp, we’ll start to solidify the starting lineup a little bit as we build into the Portland game.”
With just over two weeks to go, the season opener is already on players’ minds, Jimenez says.
“It’s one of those games that everyone’s looking forward to,” he says. “Obviously we lost to them in the final last year, so everybody is a little bit amped and a little bit hyped up to open the season on March 6 in Portland.”
In preparation for the MLS Cup rematch, Berhalter says, next Wednesday’s match against the Swope Park Rangers should feature a more solidified lineup.
But for now, Saturday’s match against Real Salt Lake is about giving guys opportunities, particularly those who are new to the team.
“Part of it is giving some of the guys a feel for how the League works and how those games are,” Jimenez says. “It’s nice to see some of the new guys being integrated and getting a feel for the game and how intense the games are here in MLS.”
Jimenez says overall the team is pleased with the progress it has made in integrating its new players and progressing toward match-level fitness. Now it’s about fine-tuning.
“We’re pleased with where we are right now. But we gotta get better these next couple of days and going into next week,” he says. “Just getting the little stuff down, our movement, our style of play, opening up the other team. Those are things we started doing a little better.”
The next opportunity to fine-tune these things comes Saturday against Real Salt Lake.
“At the end of the day it’s a preseason game, but we always want to win. So when we step on the field, everyone who gets some time will do his best.”