Even though Crew backup goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum has been in MLS since 2006, he takes nothing for granted - even if the final Reserve League match of the year comes two-and-a-half weeks after a playoff loss at Colorado ended the first team’s season.
“It’s a chance to prove ourselves, and the guys are going to come out and play like that,” he said of Tuesday’s match, which is scheduled for Crew Stadium at 10:30 a.m. ET against the D.C. United reserves.
The Crew (8-1, 24 points) have already clinched the East Division, and a win would give them the most points of all reserve squads, two better than Seattle Sounders FC (8-1-1, 25 points).
While the game may seem meaningless to some, there are players such as rookie midfielder Ben Sippola who are relishing the chance to make a final statement before the postseason training ends and decisions are made about 2012.
Sippola aims to grab his opportunity with both hands, as he’s had limited chances in the reserve squad this season.
“It’s a good opportunity to make a last impression with the coaches going into an offseason where they are going to be looking to make changes,” he said. “Hopefully I get to play. I’m looking forward to the mere fact of playing. It’s been a rough year.”
Coach Robert Warzycha said his first-teamers would not play and he will do as he normally does for reserve games, sit in the stands and let assistants Ricardo Iribarren, Mike Lapper, Duncan Oughton and Vadim Kirillov run the show.
Warzycha expects nothing less than a full effort from his players even though they are about to disperse for a break until mid-January.
“We have professional players,” he said. “They are going to perform the best they can. Whether you are the first player or the last player on the field, you want to win.”
That includes Gruenebaum. As the second choice behind William Hesmer he started only two first-team matches this season, but they were shutout victories vs. Portland and Real Salt Lake.
“I’m fighting for the No. 1 job,” Gruenebaum said. “Every time you step on the field you’ve got to think about that. It’s a privilege to be here and it’s what we do for a living, but it’s something you have to take seriously.”
The Crew’s preparation for next season will be decidedly changed since, for the first time in three years, they will not have CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals to worry about.
“It’s going to be different, but maybe it gives some guys who are hurt a little more chance to get fully healed for next year,” midfielder Eddie Gaven said.
The Crew will end the preseason by joining D.C. United, Chicago Fire and host Charleston Battery of USL PRO for the Carolina Challenge Cup from Feb. 25 to March 4.
Columbus have not played in the Carolina Challenge Cup since finishing third in 2005. Warzycha said the remainder of the preseason has not been finalized but it’s unlikely the Crew will go outside the United States to train.