Two quick weeks of the Major League Soccer season and it's already time for Columbus Crew SC's first bye week.
Typically a week off during the grind of a season that begins in March and extends into November for some teams is welcomed, but when a team has only played two games, it seems a little quick.
Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter believes the bye week still comes at a good time for his club.
"[You prepare all preseason] for the opening game and the intensity raises and then you have the home opening game the week after and now you get to breathe out a little bit," he said at training on Wednesday.
It's been an interesting first two weeks of the season for the Black and Gold. The team opened the season on the road against the Houston Dynamo and despite dominating the match, returned home with a 1-0 defeat. The following week, Columbus welcomed rivals Toronto FC, earning a somewhat controversial 2-0 victory.
While the players aren't at the point of the season where they are too fatigued, Berhalter sees the week "off" as a time the group can continue to work hard and improve since they don't have an opponent on which to focus.
"It's a little bit of conditioning, strength and conditioning," Berhalter said about this week. "Then to keep progressing some of our ideas."
Despite controlling the majority of the opening two contests, the Black and Gold are still working on chemistry and getting up to speed. The week off won't be a time to relax, rather a chance to keep the intensity high and improve on the start to the year.
"I think you take what you're given," Berhalter said of the schedule. "And when you get the schedule, you start planning and we had this week planned for a heavy week, a lot of conditioning. We're right where we want to be."
There were two things the head coach pointed to, aside from conditioning, that Crew SC will focus on this week: movements and individual defending. It's likely not a coincidence that these are two areas Berhalter harped on throughout the course of last year.
Movement is very important in the possession-based system the Black and Gold employ. In order to keep the ball and make the opponent chase, players have to find space and seams around the opposition. This means knowing each other and working on where each player should be in different circumstances.
The individual defending has not been poor in the opening two matches of the MLS season, but this will be a focal point throughout the year. Because the players are encouraged to get forward so much, one v. one situations will occur all over the field. The more these scenarios are worked on, the better prepared the players will be and the more successful the results.
Although the players don't need to look forward, the coaching staff has an eye on the future. The next game may not be until March 28, but scouting for the New York Red Bulls has begun.
"We've already looked at them," Berhalter said of Crew SC's next opponent. "The thing is, they've only played one game. They play again on Sunday and we'll get to evaluate that game. We'll present it to the team then next week."
The Red Bulls opened the season with a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City. New York played the final 19 minutes of the match with a man advantage, but the team was unable to score a winner.
On Sunday, they will begin the home portion of their campaign when D.C. United travels to Red Bulls Arena. The staff will be watching and breaking down this game in order to prepare the players, as the team gets back into its normal routine next week.
Both teams will enter the Saturday game at MAPFRE Stadium with two games under their belts. If all goes as planned, Columbus should be rested and prepared as they look to get three more points.