OBETZ, Ohio – The settling in process for the Columbus Crew began Tuesday after a busy seven-week preseason that saw the team play five games in Arizona, host Real Salt Lake in a Champions League match before the return leg in Utah, and have another exhibition in Tennessee and two more in Georgia.
In between, the Crew had several workouts at their outdoor training grounds in Obtez and indoors at two sites, including the Ohio State football team’s practice facility.
When camp opened Jan. 20, there were a half-dozen roster spots open. Now, to the delight of technical director Brian Bliss, all 30 have been filled as training resumed Tuesday in preparation for Saturday’s season opener at D.C. United.
“It came together, maybe not exactly as we laid it out, but we’re all happy with the guys we’ve got,” said Bliss. “We’ve got a roster full and it’s six or seven days before the league starts. I didn’t think we would actually get there. I thought we would be at 27, 28 today.”
The last move made by Columbus was the release of emergency backup goalkeeper Ray Burse Jr. The former FC Dallas player was signed for the Champions League series vs. RSL while top ‘keepers William Hesmer and Andy Gruenebaum rehabbed injuries. The Crew tied the first game 0-0 then lost 4-1.
[inline_node:324947]Coach Robert Warzycha appreciated Burse’s efforts.
“He can practice with us and get ready for whatever he wants to do,” he said. “He helped us a lot. I don’t mind if he comes to practice with us.”
In fact, Burse was there Tuesday training alongside the third-string goalie, rookie Alex Riggs, who the Crew will keep.
Warzycha said numerous injuries made for a disruptive preseason, especially with half of the roster being new.
“The biggest thing was we didn’t have everybody available for those two games,” he said. “Guys we played the first five games of preseason, maybe four, they weren’t there, so we had to throw in some other guys. That was the biggest challenge for us.
“As the preseason went on, we rotated and we were trying to find the best possible position for them that will help the team,” he added. “Will we have a final product now? No. We are still building this team and finding the right spots for the guys.”
Fortunately for Warzycha, the team is starting to get healthy at the right time. Hesmer played the final two preseason games and appears fully recovered, and Gruenebaum, who is training again, will be the backup in the opening game provided he doesn’t have any more hip problems.
Defenders Shaun Francis (hamstring) and Andy Iro (groin) and forward Emilio Renteria (hamstring) will likely be ready as well.
Finally, midfielder Kevin Burns (ribs) has resumed training after being sidelined for a month, but probably won’t dress Saturday, and fellow midfielder Danny O'Rourke may start practicing with the team next week for the first time since knee surgery in November.