Friday marks the first time since early November that Columbus Crew SC will be on the field for a competitive game, as they open the ATX Pro Challenge, hosted by affiliate club the Austin Aztex.
When the Black and Gold walked off the turf at Gillette Stadium, losers to the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup Playoffs, it was a bad feeling, but today's game will be very different.
"It's really hard to judge based on results," Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said of preseason games. "What I would say is, preseason progress, you look at how the team is playing, the fitness level, and the injuries. Those are the important things."
Berhalter has already stated that the team came into preseason very fit after the new offseason workout program created by new High Performance Trainer Steve Tashjian and that the team has been fortunate to not pickup any injuries, despite a heavy workload early on.
As Columbus prepares to take on fellow MLS side FC Dallas, the focus shifts to how the team is playing and how the many different combinations are working together.
"The formation's important but the personnel, I think we're going to mix up the lineup," Berhalter explained. "We just want them to get 45 minutes a game.
"What I would say is the first couple of games we're going to go 45, 45 and give everyone the opportunity to play... In the first couple of games, it's going to be just a split based on what mood we're in."
For the players, getting to go out and play someone else is an exciting proposition after only drilling against each other for the first three weeks of preseason.
"I think everybody's looking forward to playing somebody else," central defender Michael Parkhurst said. "We're tired of kicking each other and we want to kick somebody else a little bit. Also just get out 11 v. 11. There's situations that come up in a game that you just can't train and it's good to get those situations and look at them on tape, go over them. So we need that experience."
It will also allow them to get back to the game mentality they haven't really had since that disappointing playoff series. Although the results aren't what's important at this point in time, it will be a chance for the players to amp up the competition level in a game atmosphere.
"I think it's great," winger Ethan Finlay said. "Once we start getting that going and playing against other competition, it'll bring out our competitive juices and we'll be able to kind of mesh as a whole group just that much more. I'm excited."
Crew SC will play two games in tournament. After Columbus and Dallas, the Aztex will face D.C. United. The losers of each game will play each other Sunday at 2:00 pm EST followed by the winners of the previous day's game playing at 9:00 pm EST for the championship.
The game with Dallas will kickoff at 6:45 pm EST and will be broadcast on Time Warner Cable Sports Channel as well streamed live. To see how to watch, click here.