The Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic kicks off this weekend and Major League Soccer (and ESPN 3) will be streaming each of the four Crew preseason games. The link to the full list of streamed games and how to view them can be found on the MLS website.
Here are the Crew games that will be available:
Saturday Feb 9th 1 PM : Columbus Crew v. Toronto FC
Wednesday Feb 13th 1 PM : v. Philadelphia Union
Saturday Feb 16th, 6 PM : v. Orlando City
Saturday Feb 23rd : TBA
These games will go a long way in not only preparing the team for Opening day in LA vs. Chivas USA but they will also tell fans a lot in terms of what players will be used and how.
A couple telling things to look for will be open / run of play goals and total player minutes. Last year the Crew really struggled with goals against MLS level competition in the preseason and that carried over to the regular season. It wasn't till Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuain arrived that goal scoring improved.
Here are the top minute gainers from last preseason:
557 : Ethan Finlay
504 : Olman Vargas
470 : Chad Marshall
465 : Josh Williams
450 : Andy Gruenebaum
449 : Tony Tchani
444 : Milovan Mirosevic
For better or worse the group above set the tone for the 1st half of the 2012 season. This year the Crew have already played three preseason matches and they have been against MLS caliber talent. So far the players with the most minutes in those games looks like this (on right is # of starts):
160 : Matt Lampson 2
150 : Eddie Gaven 3
150 : Federico Higuain 3
150 : Josh Williams 3
150 : Kevan George 3
150 : Ryan Finley 3
150 : Tyson Wahl 3
135 : Tony Tchani 3
135 : Ben Speas 1
135 : Ethan Finlay 1
120 : Chad Barson 1
120 : Justin Meram 1
Also getting 120 minutes are Drew Beckie, Eric Gehrig, Kyle Hyland and Will Trapp but none of them have been used in the first 45 yet.
Likely starters Agustin Viana and Chad Marshall at 105 minutes each and 2 starts and Andy Gruenebaum played in the first match but came away with a slight injury after 45. Nothing serious we hope (we said the same about Hesmer last year).
The Crew only have one goal from the run of play so far. It's mildly concerning considering last year's slow start but still very early and Jairo Arrieta has yet to join the club. Can't expect him to score all goals, however.
There are still up to six open slots to be won on this team, which makes things more interesting. Patrick Guldan wrote a good piece about that earlier this week.
February 24th the Crew are scheduled to play against the University of North Carolina at Macpherson Stadium in Browns Summit, NC (just north of Greensboro) in honor of Kirk Urso. You can find out more details here.