The Crew reserves took care of an understaffed Chicago Fire team yesterday. A Fire lineup that included three academy players and two trialists. Columbus on the other hand had a lineup full of regulars including five player who have played in league matches already this year.
Columbus came out in a 4-3-3. The midfield was an inverted triangle with offseason signing Matias Sanchez playing the holding role behind Tony Tchani and Konrad Warzycha. Ryan Finley was flanked by Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram. This has been the usual formation for the reserves and they looked comfortable.
There have been calls for Sanchez to start over O'Rourke. Sanchez has the pedigree, but didn't look entirely confident or have match sharpness. He has good field vision and fired off an impressive long pass that released Finley, but he was also prone to turnovers and mistakes. He's already on the edge of the starting lineup, but there is a reason why Robert Warzycha has played Danny O'Rourke and Agustin Viana over him so far.
Both Finley and Finlay impressed. Finley is athletic and very solid. He held up the ball well and ran onto a few others. If he can finish at a decent rate (always a big if for a forward), he will be a pro for a long time. All the other parts of his game are there. Finlay looks much more fit and ready for the rigors of MLS this year. He attacked fearlessly. He whipped in a great cross that Anor finished to give the Crew the win. It was a just reward for a good game.
Tony Tchani played much like you would expect. He showed some bits of skill, but still read the game a little slowly. His central midfield partner, Konrad Warzycha, was busily patrolling the middle. He broke forward in support of the offense when he needed to and generally put in a good shift. The goal was a good example of him getting in the right spot. I'd say he earned his roster spot.
Along the back line. Eric Gehrig and Kevan George were solid agains the anemic Fire attack. Chad Barson looked very good playing both left and right back. Drew Beckie also played well, but Barson has edged him out on the depth chart with performances like yesterday's.
The Crew made five subs on the day, Shawn Sloan only saw stoppage time action in place of Tchani who took a ball to the head. Aaron Shoenfeld and Kyle Hyland both played the entire second half. Schoenfeld was fearless as he attacked the ball and showed good touch despite his size. Hyland didn't have much to do against Chicago's JV squad.
The other two subs were notable first appearances. Bernardo Anor saw his first game action since his ACL tear in July. He looked good moving around and is ramping up his match fitness. He got a goal attacking from the left wing. It was also the first time I saw Wil Trapp in person. If he weren't with the U-20's this year, he'd be in the 18 soon. He was composed on the ball. He wasn't rattled by the speed of play. Impressively, he shouted out instructions to Justin Meram after a passing sequence was broken up. While he may be 20, he plays and thinks like a veteran.
These games are also notable for how a player fights to get back into the lineup. There is a a reason why Eric Gehrig is the reserve team captain. He's relentless in his effort whether it's at the stadium on a Sunday night or on a Tuesday morning at Obetz. Meram on the other hand played a solid game, but tore into Finley after the rookie cut into traffic on a break and lost the ball. Meram had made a nice run into space and wanted to be rewarded. The coaching staff was very quickly trying to get his focus back on himself rather than Finley, congratulating him on the nice run. His interaction was in stark contrasts to Trapp's calm instruction later in the half.
One final observation, reserve teams can get animated, but rarely have I seen the level that Fire assistant coach Leo Percovich brought to the proceedings. He snarled at every disappointment, slight, or misfortune often kicking at the snow or giving an earful to the 4th official. Percovich, a former goalkeeper, still has that competitive fire burning.