Columbus Crew SC will face the New England Revolution in its final match of the Desert Diamond Cup Saturday night. But it’s more than a preseason tournament finale—it’s Crew SC’s final opportunity for a competitive match before heading to Portland for the 2016 MLS season opener on March 6.
“We’re going to look to push the minutes in this match,” Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter says. “We know it’s our final tune-up and we want to give the guys extended game time than what we’ve been doing now so it will be close to 90 minutes for the group that starts.”
In testing different lineups and varying playing time, the Black & Gold drew with their previous three opponents: Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake and Swope Park Rangers. For Crew SC’s upcoming match, Berhalter has watched the Revs play a couple times in Tucson, Arizona, and says the level of play will likely be elevated.
“This is going to be a higher level of competition than what we’ve experienced in the last couple games,” Berhalter says. “Not taking anything away from Salt Lake and Swope Park, but this is a good team. They’ve been playing well so it’s going to be great for our guys. It’s a good challenge; it’s a good measuring stick to see where we are at this part of the year.”
Analyzing where the team currently stands, Berhalter says it’s right on track. At this stage, the focal points are on improving the players’ levels of fitness and performance.
“What we’ve learned over the course of the last couple years is that you want to build into the season,” he says. “We’re building and we’re increasing both from a fitness level and from a performance level as we’re moving forward. We’re happy with the progress, we know we’re not in midseason form yet, but guys have been working hard and we’re exactly where we should be.”
That work ethic has played a large part in the team’s progress, especially as it extends beyond individual performances.
“It is a close group and with every day that passes, they become closer, and you see different personalities starting to emerge from the group, and it’s nice,” Berhalter says. “The new guys have integrated nicely, and overall, it’s been a positive preseason. I’m happy with both the mindset of the guys and the work ethic.”
Saturday’s match against New England presents the next opportunity for the Black & Gold to build on the groundwork they’ve established, and test the capabilities of this 2016 Crew SC team.
A live video stream of the Desert Diamond Cup Championship will be available on ColumbusCrewSC.com, set to kick off at 9 p.m. ET.