Finally something to talk about rather than moves made and not made. The long offseason is finally over and the Crew returned to action. It was only a preseason game, one where Columbus decided to run out two different lineups for each half against and faced off against a Malmo FF team that is also in preseason training.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter mixed starters and reservists into the lineups for both halves as he rolled out a 4-2-3-1 formation. The formation and tactics were similar to last year's Crew team. Higuain was given freedom and the attacking players could interchange.
The First Half
Matt Lampson was in goal in front of Michael Parkhurst and trialist Patrick Slogic. Chad Barson manned the right back spot with first round draft pick Ben Sweat on the left. Wil Trapp and third round draft pick Fifi Baiden played as the double pivot screen behind Federico Higuain, Bernardo Anor on the left and new arrival Hector Jimenez. Ryan Finley was the solo striker.
The game was choppy, even beyond the stuttering MLSSoccer.com stream. It was obvious that both teams were shaking off significant rust after a long layoff.
While most of the team struggled to find rhythm, there flashes of fluency. UC Santa Barbera's Baiden impressively sprayed the ball around the field. He uncorked three long passes that switched the point of attack.
Parkhurst looked sharp with superior technique and excellent passing out of the back. He does give the Crew something they haven't had in recent years, a central defender who can play with the ball at his feet.
The two other rookies, Sweat and Slogic, had mixed performances. Sweat get into dangerous positions, but did struggle to read the game at an MLS pace. Slogic didn't have a lot to do, but his lack of foot speed was revealed.
Others disappointed, Jimenez showed how he earned his poor defensive reputation with a lax performance. Ryan Finley struggled with service and reading the right play. He looked to break behind the defense rather than holding up play and didn't have many chances.
The Second Half
The team made a full lineup change at halftime. Steve Clark made his Crew debut in goal. Ross Friedman, Eric Gehrig, Josh Williams, and Tyson Wahl completed the defense. Kevan George and Agustin Viana were the defensive screeners. Dominic Oduro and Justin Meram flanked Ben Speas who played the central creator. Jairo Arrieta was alone up top.
Arrieta bagged the goal in the 50th minute following the scrum from a Meram corner kick. The Costa Rican had a better understanding of his role and looked to check back. Meram also looked improved playing on the left wing he attempted to attack from wide areas.
Clark also was kept busier. He was forced into four saves to keep Malmo off the board. He showed his athleticism and intelligence to earn the clean sheet.
Two new arrivals didn't have a chance to suit up. Daniel Paladini and Waylon Francis picked up slight injuries and didn't play. Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani, Aaron Schoenfeld, Shaun Sloan, Kyle Walker, Daniel Withrow, and Brad Stuver were healthy scratches.
There is little that can be divined from an early preseason game. Even the lineup juggling mixed starters with players looking to secure a roster slot. The only telling piece of information was that Berhalter is looking to implement the 4-2-3-1 formation. The learning curve would be shorter as it's how the Crew lined up last season.
Up Next: The team has two weeks before their next game. They train in Bradenton before returning to Columbus on Friday. The team heads back to Florida for the Disney Pro Soccer Classic on Feburary 16th.