Consider Columbus Crew SC’s opening match of the Carolina Challenge Cup as a pop quiz.
Disappointed in not having a full squad for the entirety of Saturday’s 1-1 draw against the Chicago Fire, the circumstances presented the team with an unexpected challenge, as well as unexpected insights, according to head coach Caleb Porter.
“Well it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t see the group 11v11 for 90 minutes,” Porter said. “Obviously we didn’t draw it up that way, but at the same time, like I told them in the locker room at halftime, this is a game where things happen like that and you have to overcome the adversity and I thought they did.”
Nearly 30 minutes into Saturday’s match, Wil Trapp was sent off for a hard tackle on Chicago's Diego Campos. Per preseason rules, Trapp was forced to sit out the match's remainder, but will be able to play in the Crew’s next match on Feb. 20 against the Charleston Battery.
Of course, playing down a man in the final stages of a preseason schedule isn’t typically what’s practiced, but the resolve the players showed spoke to the team’s attitude, Porter said.
“I’m really happy to be in the trenches with these guys and, again, to play 60 minutes down a man in a preseason match shows really what they are about, and we’re going to need to draw from that. The difference often times, the margins in this game, it comes down to the mentality and it comes down to the fight. It comes down, as fluffy as it sounds, to the team. And yet, I thought our first 30 minutes, when it was 11v11, showed the type of football we could play.”
Predominantly on the attacking end for much of the beginning, Porter stressed how pleased he was with the team’s play while on even terms, despite giving up the match’s opening goal.
“And I thought prior to going down a man, we played in a very good way,” Porter said. “The goal they scored, hats off to them. That was a great goal, it was against the run of play. I thought we came out and we were the aggressor, I thought we were on the front foot, I thought we had a bit more of the game and more chances.”
Nine minutes after Chicago's opening goal, the Black & Gold responded with quick transition passing into the attacking half before a spell of cross-field passes left Waylon Francis with an open cross to Gyasi Zardes, who rose up for a header untouched amongst a confused Chicago backline.
“When you really look at the goal we scored, that’s a tremendous goal,” Porter said. “That’s a team goal, that’s a passing goal, that’s a combination goal, and that’s the type of football we want to play and I think that shows what we are capable of doing.”
The Crew will be back to full strength of Wednesday, Feb. 20 against the Charleston Battery at 5 p.m. ET. The match will be streamed live at www.CharlestonBattery.com.