COLUMBUS – Columbus Crew SC returned to its home pitch at MAPFRE Stadium in preparation for the international friendly against German Bundesliga-side Eintracht Frankfurt next Monday. The Friday training session came in the midst of Major League Soccer's break in play during the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup group stages.
Throughout the week of training, members of Crew SC have sung the praises of the Bundesliga, focusing much on the mental toughness of their adversaries on Monday. Columbus defender Jukka Raitala, who played in Germany from 2010-2011 with SC Paderborn 07, has experience with that mental toughness.
“When I left Finland, I went back right away to Germany and it was a huge step for me,” Raitala said. “I think especially on the mental side I learned a lot because they are very strong. Whatever happens to these guys, they keep on going and they are mentally and physically very strong guys.”
Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter spent seven years in both the Bundesliga and Second Bundesliga with TSV 1860 and Energie Cottbus, respectively. The Black & Gold Boss' vast experience will come in handy during the friendly in Columbus against the Eagles of Frankfurt.
“I think you have to be prepared to keep going,” Berhalter said. There’s a very high level of competition both within the team and in the league. So, it’s something that you learn to deal with. You have to bring your game every single day or you don’t have a chance to play there.”
Iron sharpens iron
Even though the friendly match does not count in terms of points or the MLS table, members of Crew SC are focused on getting a win and possibly accomplishing other goals during the home match. Crew SC captain and midfielder Wil Trapp stated that any time he and his teammates are on the pitch, they are playing to win and improve.
“I think any opportunity that we have to play against teams from the big European leagues, while it’s an exhibition match, it’s still something that we take pride in,” Trapp said. “We’re in the middle of the season and we want to show our quality. You definitely get up for these games. You certainly want to test your metal against them.”
There are other improvements that the Black & Gold are trying to make during their friendly match and before their return to Major League Soccer play on July 22 against the Philadelphia Union.
“You are getting guys who haven’t played a lot some minutes,” Trapp said. “Any time you’re on the field, you want to show well and win. I think for us its maybe trying out a new formation or reinforcing formations we’ve already tried against a quality opponent.”
Berhalter agreed with Trapp’s sentiment and hopes that the friendly matchup against Eintracht Frankfurt will move his players to take a look in the mirror.
“I think we’re working on parts of our game model that we want to see in the game,” Berhalter said. “But also, just to see, I want them to be able to evaluate themselves. How do I stack up against the average German Bundesliga player? What is it like? We see them on TV, now what does it look like when we’re playing against them? That’s valuable. Any time you get to measure yourself against the best in the world it’s a valuable exercise.”
This past Monday, the MLS secondary transfer window officially opened. The window, the second of two on the league calendar, allows teams to sign new players via international transfers or through intraleague trades. According to Berhalter, he spoke to his team following the transfer period opening.
“I talked to the team today," he said. "And I said 'Listen, I understand that the group may be under some stress, individuals may be under some stress. But, we’re going to communicate fully with you.' I think the guys deserve that respect. There is no one on this team that will get blindsided by anything. And that’s important. And what I’d say is, that anyone specifically involved with rumors, we’ll talk to them and tell them exactly what’s going on.”
Midseason 🆚 Preseason
Eintracht Frankfurt is currently in the midst of their preseason preparations as opposed to Crew SC, who are in full midseason swing. Berhalter and Raitala relayed their experiences during preseason in Germany and what the Black & Gold can expect from a team in a different phase of their season.
“I know what a German preseason is like,” Berhalter said. “So, I know what those guys are going through. Typically, you’re up at 6:30 in the morning, you have a session and then you go and do another morning session and then an afternoon session and then a second afternoon session. You can do four sessions in a day sometimes and its physically exhausting. I think now with the technology they’re probably taking it easy a little bit more but the Bundesliga is an intense league. There’s a lot of high intensity running so you need to be prepared. If you’re not prepared, you’re going to get injured.”
Raitala echoed Berhalter’s narrative of the usual form of German clubs, but said that Crew SC will be prepared, in shape, and on par with the Bundesliga-side and DFB Pokal-finalists.
“I think physically, it won’t be a problem for us,” I think we are a very good and strong team. It will be interesting to meet these guys. They are in preseason so they will be training very hard. It’s going to be crazy.”
They said it…
After detailing the grueling preseason schedule that he dealt with while playing in Germany, Berhalter utilized a tinge of humor and sarcasm to summarize a German presesason in four words:
“Yeah, it was fun.”
►Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter
German Bundesliga-side and DFB Pokal-finalist Eintracht Frankfurt visits Columbus Crew SC and MAPFRE Stadium for an international friendly on Monday, July 17. The match is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.
Columbus returns to MLS action at home on July 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET against the Philadelphia Union.