It's the last swing of the preseason and First Kick in Colorado is only two weeks away. The Columbus Crew play their last three games before the regular season in the Carolina Challenge Cup. They face the Charleston Battery tonight, the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, and end the tourney against D.C. United next Saturday. Competition throughout the roster should be fierce as players vie for starting spots and others try and stick with the roster.
Lingering Lineup Questions
Coach Robert Warzycha is still looking to set his starting lineup with injuries taking their toll throughout the preseason. Eddie Gaven, Justin Meram, Danny O'Rourke, Chad Marshall and William Hesmer all suffered from the injury bug enough to work on the side rather than with the first team. Dilly Duka has also missed extensive time with the U.S. U-23 team. That's five starters and a key sub that have been out of training.
The left back situation is still uncertain. Shaun Francis is trying to lock down a starting spot, but has faced competition from trialists Lance Liang and Kasali Casal. Defenders Josh Williams, Carlos Mendes, and midfielder Bernardo Anor are also in the running to see action at left back. Certainly the technical staff is trying to build some depth, but the amount of shuffling speaks to a lingering lack of faith in Francis. Warzycha also recently told Craig Merz of theCrew.com that there would be another left back trialist in the mix in Charleston.
Warzycha has also tweaked the formations still trying to get the most out of his new offensive acquisitions Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargas. The Crew have shuffled between a 4-4-2, 4-5-1, and even have the players to try out a 4-3-3 depending on the situation. The staff would like to have the rotation narrowed down and a solid first choice lineup ready to go by the end of the tourney.
Scoring Punch or Punchless?
The Crew have struggled in their limited game action this season. Against top competition they've struggled to score. The team scored one goal against Malmo and none against Seattle, only racking up 10 against the U.S. U-17 team. They will be facing much better competition. Charleston is a USL Pro team, but the Crew will also face MLS competition against the Fire and United. Columbus will have to start scoring or the murmurs of a another year of punchless offense will get louder.
Mirosevic was added to give the Crew a quarterback presence on the team, but he's also a goal scorer. His goal scoring touch hasn't been evident yet. Vargas has also been quiet in the goals column. It is still preseason, but the team is now facing a scoring slump and with recent history one of being frustratingly poor in front of the net, fans are a bit edgy.
To Win or Not To Win
Preseason results don't matter in the regular season table. The Crew can lose every preseason game and still will be 0-0-0 on March 10th. Warzycha, members of the team, and fans would all love to see a preseason win or two. It does restore a bit of confidence and is the most clear way to show things are coming together. Tonight's matchup against Charleston provides a good chance. The Battery sit a couple rungs below the Crew and are a month and a half away from kicking off their regular season.
The Chicago Fire and D.C. United both missed the playoffs last year and have retooled in an effort to to get back the position they're used to. Neither underwent a dramatic turnover, but much like the Crew, they did retool in an effort to get stronger in a weakened Eastern Conference. These are tests against prime competition for one of the five playoff spots and a good measuring stick to see where the Crew are as the regular season approaches.
Live From Blackbaud
This is the first chance that fans get a look at the 2012 Crew as all games will be streamed live on theCrew.com. Rather than relying on lineup sheets, the offense starring the Chilean Mirosevic and featuring new Costa Rican forward Vargas gets to shine online.
Crew v. Charleston Battery - Feb. Sat. 25th 7:15pm
Crew v. Chicago Fire - Wed. Feb. 29th 5:00pm
Crew v. D.C. United - Sat. March 3rd 5:00pm