Gregg Berhalter

As Opening Match approaches, starting lineup starts to take shape

It's been 'so far, so good' for the Crew through three matches in its 2014 preseason preparations. In those matches, the Black & Gold have out-scored opponents 5-1. The only blemish coming on an own goal against Toronto FC.

Despite the success, Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter still sees room for improvement in the Crew's two remaining matches of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic before Opening Match of the 2014 MLS Regular Season on March 8 at D.C. United.  

"We still have a ways to go," Berhalter said over the phone on Tuesday. "The attitude has been great, the effort has been great. But I think we can improve, I think we can get better. These guys have a lot more in them than they've shown.

"We just want to keep developing, keep working through our system, keep working on some of the movement and just keep hammering home our philosophy and how we want to play. "

Added midfielder Bernardo Anor: "What we're working on now is very important. Tactically, how do we set up ourselves? How do we position ourselves when we don't have the ball? [We must] know our respective function on the field and the movement off of the ball is critical for us to keep the ball moving side-to-side and controlling the game.

Anor continued: "If we keep up with these things, I think we'll be ready for the game against D.C. United."

While the Crew has employed a different starting XI in every match so far, Berhalter admitted that a lineup has started to come together in his mind through four weeks of training and three preseason victories.

"I think we're getting there, we really are," he explained. "There are still some positions up for grabs and the guys tomorrow will have a chance to show they deserve to be in the starting XI."

Anor is one of many players battling for a starting spot before Opening Match. Though the native Venezuelan scored four goals and notched an assist starting in 19 of the final 20 matches of 2013, he isn't taking anything for granted as competition for starting spots has intensified as preseason grinds on.

"You see the guys getting in better shape, adjusting even quicker," Anor said. "I think the competition has increased over the past couple of weeks. You see all the guys at a good level. It's making the group very good, very competitive. We have to keep fighting. 

"We all want to be in the starting XI, so we have to just do what the coach is asking and keep working hard."

Berhalter will likely get a look at some new faces in match action on Wednesday when the Black & Gold take on USL PRO side Orlando City SC to round out play in Group A of the Disney Pro Soccer Classic. Though the pressure of advancing in the tournament will be off with the Crew clinching a spot in the Final after Saturday's 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, the intra-squad competition for playing time and spots on the roster when the regular season comes will bring out a different spirit in Berhalter's side with roster decisions looming in the coming week.

"Our objective of this camp was to give everyone some type of meaningful minutes," the Crew boss revealed. "There's definitely going to be some new personnel on the field."

He continued: "[Wednesday's match] is important, but it's not everything. We've been evaluating the guys already for the last three and a half-four weeks. It's going to be one of the factors, but not everything."

Berhalter may not be done adding to his roster just yet after signing Costa Rican centerback Giancarlo Gonzalez on Friday. The Sporting Director and Head Coach hasn't ruled out any moves before Opening Match.

"You never know," he said. 

"I think [singings are] something we're looking at, but nothing is set in stone."


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