COLUMBUS – The Crew see their elimination from the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday not as an end, but a step in the ongoing process of gearing for the start of the MLS season.
“The goal now is to build off what we’ve seen these past two games and what we’ve done so far in the preseason,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said after Real Salt Lake won 4-1 at Rio Tinto Stadium to clinch the series.
“It’s not like we have to hit the panic button,” he added. “We’re still in the middle of preseason. If we keep working like we’ve done we’ll be fine for the first (MLS) game.”
The Crew open the regular season on March 19 on the road against D.C. United.
Crew coach Robert Warzycha is still integrating 15 newcomers (including eight rookies) into his system, while simultaneously dealing with numerous injuries.
“Too bad the tournament is so early in the season because we are missing so many guys,” Warzycha said. “It would be a little bit different game at a different time.”
[inline_node:329233]He did find positives from the series, including rookie defender Rich Balchan and first-year midfielder Cole Grossman, who started both games. Midfielder Josh Gardner also played well at left back.
“It was a great experience for them,” Warzycha said. “They were under pressure and had to perform.”
A young defensive corps played well in the scoreless first game vs. RSL in Crew stadium on Feb. 22, but was shredded in the rematch with gaping holes and poor marking on set pieces.
Still, the Crew trailed only 2-1 when Eddie Gaven set up Andres Mendoza in the 49th minute to put them within a score of advancing on away goals.
A Javier Morales goal in the 77th minute was enough to put RSL through and Andy Williams added another tally with a free kick in the 94th minute.
“I’m proud we came back but disappointed as the captain and a leader of the defense at giving up four goals,” Crew defender Andy Iro said. “We’ve got to be a little more disciplined in our marking and picking up runners. We’ve got to be a little more solid.”
Still, Iro said he’s anxious to restart preparation for the MLS season.
“I’m not lying when I say I feel pretty good about the team,” Iro said.