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Rebrand or Not, Little is New for Columbus Crew SC in 2015

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There is a lot different around Crew SC this year but the Black and Gold are familiar with how to play in year two of the Berhalter era.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It's a new awakening for Columbus Crew SC as the rebrand will be complete when the team takes the field to begin the 2015 campaign, but for the players and coaches things feel very familiar.

"Hope [not starting at ground zero] will make things a little easier," club captain Michael Parkhurst said. "A good majority of guys know what's expected of them on the field as far as tactics so that's helpful."

The Black and Gold are currently on their first leg of preseason in Lakewood Ranch, Florida and things are off to a good start, especially compared to a year ago.

"Definitely compared to last year we're a lot further ahead," Parkhurst explained. "Gregg was implementing a whole new system. At this point we had no idea what was going to happen, what to expect, but this year we do."

When Gregg Berhalter took over in November of 2013, he wanted to change the culture of the organization. He wanted to make the on-field product something fans could both identify and would want to come see. Players responded to the changes, but it wasn't easy initially.

Berhalter believes in a possession-based style of play that forces the opposition to work hard to get the ball back. He wants his team to play exciting, attacking-based soccer that isn't the norm in MLS.

The 2014 preseason was Berhatler's first time to work with his players and teach them how he wanted to play. While some aspects of the system were recognizable to players, there was a lot to learn.

Although the team got off to a fast start - 3-0 record and the best start in franchise history - the struggles became apparent after the first month. As the season progressed, the team began to grasp the intricacies of the formation and results began to come. Crew SC climbed up to a third place finish in the Eastern Conference and their first playoff appearance since 2011.

Now the team can use this preseason as a chance to improve on what they accomplished last year.

"There's a good majority of guys that know positionally what the responsibilities are." Parkhurst said. "And to know that off the top of preseason, you can just go in and hone on things. It's like learning a new playbook I guess. We've got the playbook, the majority of it, and I'm sure there's going to be little tweaks but we've got the basics down so things should progress quicker."

The exception to this is the 10 new players who weren't on the roster a year ago and must be brought up to speed. That's what the team is focusing on in the preseason. The good news is three of those players, Kei Kamara, Ben Swanson, and Mohammed Saeid, got an early start getting used to the new system.

Kamara joined the Black and Gold in October but could not be added to the roster until January. He spent the remainder of the season training with the club and getting used to his new teammates. Swanson, a homegrown product, trained with Crew SC on and off throughout 2014 before signing with the club. Saeid was able to train with much of the team during the offseason.

"It's extremely helpful for us but it's also really helpful for them," winger Ethan Finlay said of the new players the team is already familiar with.

"For them to get in, to get to know the guys, to get to know the coaches, they'll be able to start running day one. They'll get it. They'll know the expectations."

If the new players can get up to speed quickly, Columbus could be in a very good spot come the start of their season on Mar. 7. Berhalter is happy with where his team is, but knows there is more work to do if they are going to build on the success of last season.

"What I think is that we've made a lot of progress so far but now to move it the next bit is the hardest thing," the Crew SC coach explained. "We have to refine our game, we have to get better, and that's the tricky part is the details. Ironing out the details and getting all of that engrained in the players."