The Columbus Crew SC will take the pitch this evening in Bradenton Florida as part of the IMG Suncoast Pro Classic, facing the Costa Rica Under 23 National team. The Black and Gold are coming off a 7-0 thumping of "London United", a makeshift team of unsigned players, in their first match of the annual tournament. The match against the Ticos will prove a sterner test, to be sure, but the Crew will look to keep building momentum towards their opening day fixture with Houston Dynamo on March 7th.
Thus far this pre-season Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter has taken a mix and match approach to lineups, choosing a mixture of what look to be first team and backup players, and while this should continue, look for some players to start getting increased minutes as the pre-season passes its mid point. Most have averaged 45 minutes thus far, but this week Berhalter commented that this could rise. One player likely to see an increasing in playing time against Costa Rica is Chad Barson, right fullback, who will be looking to stake a claim to the position with Hernan Grana, the impressive offseason signing from Argentina, not in camp due to the birth of his son in his native Argentina. Chris Klute, who joined the Crew in a Superdraft day trade with Colorado, will look to impress and make a case for playing time over second-year man Waylon Francis.
With the center of the park likely locked in, the most interesting positional battle in camp seems to be on the wings, with Ethan Finlay, fresh off signing a new contract late last season, and Justin Meram projected as starters now, but with offseason signing Kristinn Steindorsson, Hector Jimenez, and US Under 19 international Romain Gall all looking to get in to the picture, that could change. Draft pick Sagi Lev-Ari saw time on the wing in the last match, as did Ben Speas, but both typically play more centrally, Lev-Ari as a striker and Speas in the attacking midfield position that belongs unquestionably to Federico Higuain. With Cedrick Mabwati poised to join the Black and Gold this summer, there seems to be an abundance of options for Berhalter, and this pre-season tournament seems to be the time for players to make their case.
Kei Kamara got off the mark against London United, and will look to keep building a rapport with Higuian and the other projected starters. Aaron Schoenfeld and Adam Bedell will both look to push for minutes, however, and will be looking to impress.
My best guess at the starters, based on previous pre-season matches:
GK: Steve Clark
Defense: (Right to left) Chad Barson, Michael Parkhurst, Sergio Campbell, Waylon Francis
Holding Mids: Tony Tchani, Mohammed Saeid
Attacking Mids: Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain, Justin Meram
Forward: Kei Kamara
The match is scheduled to kick off at 5 PM ET and the embedded stream is below.