Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha would, of course, love to win the Carolina Challenge Cup, but his real priority is to build chemistry and cohesion leading into the regular season opener March 10 at Colorado.
He’s trying to get offseason acquisitions midfielder Milovan Mirosevic and forward Olman Vargas on the same page with the rest of the attack, while also integrating a batch of rookies, including first-round pick Ethan Finlay.
“The more important thing is the guys need to feel comfortable in what we’re doing,” Warzycha said earlier this week.
He found the task daunting in the trio of games earlier this month in Florida because he was forced to use players slotted for backup roles as starters.
“Look at all the new guys we have,” Warzycha said. “It’s not because we’re trying to change the team. It’s because we have injuries.”
Warzycha should be feeling a little better about things now. Despite managing only a 2-2 tie on Saturday against hosts Charleston Battery (USL), the match marked the returns of defender Chad Marshall (ankle) and wide midfielder Eddie Gaven (knee). Each had been sidelined for the training sessions in Columbus prior to leaving for South Carolina.
Gaven made a triumphant entry Saturday by scoring the first goal for the Crew off an assist from Finlay, who started in place of Dilly Duka, who is with the US Under-23 team.
Marshall needs the games in Charleston to improve the partnership with newcomer Carlos Mendes in the center defense. Marshall paired with Julius James last season, but James has not been unable to train while recovering from shoulder surgery.
“We’re getting to know each other,” Mendes said. “We have a lot of new players not only as defenders but the whole team. That’s a big part of the preseason, jelling as a unit.”
Another newbie was added to the mix Saturday. Trialist Nemanja Vukovic, a 27-year-old Yugoslavian-born defender, replaced regular left back Shaun Francis at halftime.
The Crew next face the Chicago Fire in the Carolina Challenge Cup. Watch the match live on TheCrew.com.