Jonathan Mensah mentioned how collective defending has been a stressing point throughout the preseason, and rightly so.
No one part is bigger than the sum of the team and just as the first line of defense starts at the top, the start of the attack begins from the back. It's a total-football kind of mindset that places a shared responsibility on each player to know the queues of when to press, when to play direct, and so on.
The compiling depth among the backline gives a welcome reprieve following an injury-plagued 2019 season and instills a sense of comfort knowing the backline is filling in nicely ahead of the 2020 season, starting with the signing of centerback Vito Wormgoor.
Alongside Mensah, Wormgoor comes in with a commanding presence. A physical six-foot, four-inch centerback with hair to rival a Mortal Kombat character, Wormgoor admitted the system is different from what he was accustomed to at SK Brann, but the team's personnel and fluidness are factors that will make the jump easier.
"The feeling is great and they are great guys. I feel like one of them already. It’s a good feeling, you know, because when you feel like one of them already, it’s easier to show yourself," Wormgoor said.
Typically playing in a 4-3-3 as a right centerback with Brann, Wormgoor was accustomed to wingers staying high and wide.
"Of course, the last three years, I’ve played a different style and I can tell you now already I need to [adjust] more because we are going to play out of the back with different angles on the pitch."
Now, there are more passing lanes and options for him, he said, and those adjustments are small but important.
"Those small things, in the end, make a big change for me. But now already I know I can trust the guys...that [a teammate] will come into the ball and that I’ll always have two options. That feeling for me and others is gold, that we always have 1 or 2 options."
Speaking of options, when asked about having Milton Valenzuela alongside on the left, Vormgoor put it succinctly: "I am sure about him. I feel the confidence."
Sidelined with a knee injury in 2019, Valenzuela returns after a 2018 season that saw him tied for third in regular-season assists (6) among MLS defenders with at least 29 starts.
Nearly three weeks from Opening Match, Wormgoor sees something significant developing along the left side.
"We need to build it and I think we can build something beautiful on the left side. I know that he will be there always, 100 percent," he said.
"I was talking with [Milton] and of course we have a different language, but we can talk in English. On the pitch, you talk soccer. So small things, inside/outside, left/right; we feel each other more and more, so that’s a very good thing. You see the quality of him, he’s a very good player."
Witnessing the development among the backline is Eloy Room, who after going unbeaten in 11 of the last 13 matches, is getting accustomed to the new backline as he embarks on his first full season with Columbus.
Room mentioned how his connections with Wormgoor and Mensah are solid, and that it's also been nice to see the new wingers come into play.
"Chris is a new player, you see his qualities," Room said of newcomer Chris Cadden. "Milton was injured when I came so I didn’t see him play, but they both have qualities to go up and take all the pitch," he continued, "so it’s nice to see those players are back now and I think it’s nice to have some healthy competition on the team."
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Mensah touched on Valenzuela's return and the overall feeling he has about the backline going into the season.
"Just incredible, especially with Milton back from his injury the whole season he was out. We’re pumped to have him back to strengthen our backline. We have some depth and now we reinforce and bring in the experienced guys. It’s going to be a great season," Mensah said.
Albeit preseason, each training and friendly matters, Mensah says.
With that, last year's disappointment will be used as motivation to make a run in the 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs.
"Not making the playoffs last season is the motivation for us. So, for us to get there we need to win our little battles. Take it game after game."