For the Crew, This January is Different Than the Last.

Ah, training camp. A lot of running, a lot of stretching, and a lot of new faces.

This year’s Columbus Crew training camp is chock full of new faces and names, and there are more on the way. Ethan Finlay, Kevan George, Matt Lampson, Carlos Mendes, Aubrey Perry, Ben Speas and Kirk Urso were the new faces that were running around the indoor field today, in addition to a handful of trialists and “guests.”

Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargos, two of the biggest winter acquisitions for the Crew, will join the team on Monday. Andrew Bulls is expected to arrive this weekend, and Jamie Finch and Darren Amoo, both acquired in the supplemental draft, will join the team in Florida.

But there are also some familiar faces missing from the stretching circles: Dilly Duka and Emilo Renteria are off with their respective national teams. Robbie Rogers has transferred to Leeds United in England. Emannuel Ekpo is out of contract and training somewhere oversees as he seeks a new - presumably European - contract, Andres Mendoza has taken his thumb-sucking and penalty stealing act to Atlante of the Mexican Primera Division and Kevin Burns is playing his own special version of soccer in Europe as a trialist searching for contract.

The returning veterans are all present and accounted for, including Chad Marshall’s blank stare, Danny O’Rourke’s sore knee and - the fan favorite - Eddie Gaven’s beard. Everyone that was present today participated, with the exception of Julius James who watched in street clothes as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

The attitude around camp this year is much lighter than in recent years, the older guys and coaches are cracking more jokes and the most everyone seems relaxed. The young guys, especially the trialists and draftees, are all business, knowing that they can be cut at a moment’s notice. But there is still an unspoken camaraderie among the young and old, seen through a sort of “I know what you feel like, just keep your head down and run and you’ll be fine” glance exchanged every now and then.

That isn’t to say people aren’t working hard. But it is to say that working hard this year feels better than it did last year.

Everyone knows that this January is different than the last. This January there are no gaping holes in the roster. This January there is promise rather than wonder. This January there is pressure rather than acceptance. This January, the questions have been answered ahead of time and there truly is a clean slate.

This Columbus team knows that the demons of 2011 can finally be excised and that 2012 holds a new promise. A promise of starting the season fresh, of coming into their own, of being a brand-new Columbus Crew.

Last January was all about who wasn’t in training camp. This January is all about who is. It’s a refreshing change, really, and one that the players and staff are excited about. This January is all about soccer.

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