OBETZ — Columbus Crew SC resumed team activities for the first time in four days on Thursday at the EAS Training Center at Obetz in the middle of an 11-day break between competitive matches.
The Black & Gold are in the midst of preparing for upcoming road matches against FC Cincinnati (U.S Open Cup Fourth Round) and Atlanta United FC (MLS regular season), and took inventory of the season so far in their return to training during Major League Soccer’s International break.
Forward Ola Kamara has had a prosperous 2017 MLS Regular Season so far for Crew SC and is tied with midfielder Justin Meram for most goals scored with eight. Since making his debut in the Black & Gold on April 9, 2016, Kamara has scored at an impressive rate with 24 goals in 41 appearances.
Kamara, on the cusp of a 25-goal milestone, looked back fondly at his fruitful past 14 months since becoming a member of the Black & Gold.
“For me, this last year has been fantastic,” Kamara said. “I came here and the fans took me in and the team did. I think the goals show that I’m comfortable here. I have players and trainers and managers and assistants that I fit into. If you fit in as a striker, you score goals. I’ve scored a nice amount of goals and I feel like the chemistry is getting even better so hopefully there’s more to come.”
Crew SC Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s expectations were exceeded by his team in their return to the EAS Training Center at Obetz on Thursday.
“It actually went better than expected,” Berhalter said. “I thought they were going to be a little bit rusty, but they did a good job today. Good intensity, good level.”
Berhalter said following training that he is in support of the break and that it can be beneficial to the Black & Gold.
“I think it’s good,” Berhalter said. “Sixteen games in, it seems like we’ve had a busy stretch these last couple weeks with the two three-game weeks so it’s good to exhale a little and refocus on what’s next.”
The long break is uncommon in the middle of a season and is quite the change of pace. Berhalter likened it to preparing for a season all over again.
“We have a detailed training plan for these next weeks,” Berhalter said. “It’s almost like a mini-preseason in terms of identifying things we need to work on in our game. And we’re going to set out to improve them every day. If we can improve them, we’ll be fine. If we can’t improve it, we’re going to struggle.”
The next game on the slate will be new territory for Columbus this season, as they will face the second division United Soccer League's FC Cincinnati in the Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in a road match that will have a winner, no matter what.
“It’s a different type of game,” Berhalter said. “It’s an elimination game so the mentality has to be different. It’s a game away from home, which is never easy at any place. But in terms of the intensity, all that will stay the same. It’s just a little bit different focus based on what the format is.”
A vote of confidence
Crew SC Homegrown defender Alex Crognale got the start and played 89 minutes in last week’s match at center back in a three-man backline. Veteran defender Josh Williams was impressed with the rookie’s performance and even compared Crognale to himself at a younger age.
“I thought he did well,” Williams said. “As an older guy thinking back, it was so hard to try to take everything in and communicate. I was so focused on myself.”
Williams seems to be happy with Crognale’s past and present form and likes the outlook for his future as a member of the Black & Gold defense.
"I feel like he played at such a high level at Maryland and then he came here,” Williams said. “And he’s trained with us for years so he’s been in this environment. I think he’s done exceptional early on in the year. And there’s a reason why he’s out there. All the other guys, I try to let them know that all the time, there’s a reason why you’re here. He’s perfect in that role. He’s a big body in there and I think the more he plays, the more experience he gets the more he’ll open up and communication will come.”
Williams also spoke on the competition at the position of center back for the Crew SC defense.
“My job, Alex’s job, Jonathan (Mensah)’s job, Nicolai (Naess), even Lalas (Abubakar), our job is to make it difficult on Gregg to decide who’s playing and who’s not, and I think all of us have done a great job in doing that,” Williams said. “I think it starts out here and in the game when you’re called upon, you have to step up.”
They said it…
Crew SC put last week’s tough loss in Colorado behind it as it returned from a break and started training for two fresh opponents. Williams liked what he saw today at the EAS Training Center at Obetz after the team’s break, but the Ohio native did not like what he saw last night as he attended Game Three of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
“Unfortunately, I was at the Cavs game so I took another hard loss (laughs). But no, it’s always nice to step away from soccer and we’re always out here kicking each other, with the competitiveness. So it’s good to go back and spend quality time with family and just escape everything. It’s good to see everybody out here. Everyone was locked in today. It was a good, competitive day. I feel like we moved forward today.”
►Crew SC defender Josh Williams
Columbus will next travel for a June 17 match in Atlanta against MLS-expansion side Atlanta United with a 7 p.m. ET kickoff. Crew SC next plays the Montreal Impact at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday, June 24 with a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff. Enjoy half-off select beers (for supporters ages 21-and-over), Pepsi products, brats and pretzels through the 15th minute.*
*concession items subject to change
The Black & Gold welcome German Bundesliga-side and DFB Pokal-finalist Eintracht Frankfurt to MAPFRE Stadium for an international friendly on Monday, July 17. The match is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.