They say competition brings out the best in everyone. If that's true, it should be a good weekend for Columbus Crew SC.
The Black and Gold took part in Tournament Day at the EAS Training Facility on Thursday morning. In case you aren't familiar, Tournament Day is something head coach Gregg Berhalter brought to Columbus last year that takes place towards the end of training. Players are separated into teams and they compete in different competitions.
Today, when the media entered, it was 4 v. 4 games, small-sided games. The teams were as follows.
Orange: Justin Meram, Chris Klute, Aaron Schoenfeld, Sergio Campbell
Green: Romain Gall, Chad Barson, Ben Speas, Kevan George
Blue: Federico Higuain, Waylon Francis, Tony Tchani, Tyson Wahl
Gray: Ethan Finlay, Kristinn Steindorsson, Hector Jimenez, Emanuel Pogatetz
The competition was fierce. In between each match, assistant coach Josh Wolff read the updated standings so the players knew where they stood. The games were short, but featured a lot of high-paced action and serious trash talking. If you didn't know any better, you would have sworn some of these guys didn't like each other.
Kei Kamara, Michael Parkhurst, Mohammed Saeid, and Matt Lampson all were not a part of Tournament Day (more on that below).
After the tournament play was finished and it was announced the gray team were the victors on the day (tied on points with blue, but won on goal differential). Some of the attacking midfielders - Finlay, Jimenez, Speas, Steindorsson - worked on through balls and finishing at one end, while some of the forwards and wide defenders worked on crossing and finishing on the other end.
After he was done working with the team, Berhalter came over to talk with the media.
Conversation with Berhalter
- The Hernan Grana saga continued today with more questions. Berhalter was asked about the impact of losing a guy in the locker room and he said that was taken into consideration before terminating the contract.
- Berhalter said he thought it was business as usual today and that guys understand the profession. He said the focus was great and the team had a good session.
- Berhalter said what Grana had been going through had nothing to do with the decision to leave him out of the 18-man roster and he said no - it was time for Jimenez. He did say that as you see a situation weighing on a player, you make those calls.
- The head coach said the decision to start Jimenez on Saturday against the Seattle Sounders, and specifically against Marco Pappa on the wing, shows the faith the staff has in the group. Said they didn't hesitate to put someone else in at right back.
- Michael Parkhurst is not an option at right back according to Berhalter. He feels comfortable enough with the depth they have.
- Berhalter said sometimes they will look at the match ups when deciding who to start at right back, but he knows that players want consistency and order and that needs to be established. He said the guys know there is competition for places and that's a position where they will use a lot of players.
- Berhalter said Chad Barson has been good, but the issue is how much better the whole roster has become. He said the staff has had conversations with Barson about how to utilize him. Berhalter said Barson is valuable to have because he's a great person and works hard, though he still thinks Barson can contribute, especially when they need a strong defensive player. He said they have no hesitation to put Barson in to help close out a game.
- Asked about Higuain, who Berhalter commented after last game that people only write about him when he scores, the head coach said his role is not that much different from a year ago, but having Kamara up top means there's less responsibility for him to score. He said Pipa is responsible for helping to finalize the attack meaning final passes and progressing the game from the front to the back.
- Berhalter was asked about some of the guys sitting out at the end of training. He said Lampson was in training, but didn't know what happened. Said Saeid and Kamara were in partial training but didn't participate in Tournament play.
- Assistant coach Pat Onstad played in goal during Tournament Day and Berhalter said (with a laught) they're going to give him a player rating. The former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year looked good in the nets. "They actually tied, they lost on goal difference. So he could have been the first coach to have a victory on Tournament Day, which would have been special."
- Asked about the travel across the country in this league, Berhalter said it's something that if you don't get too hung up on, it doesn't impact players. He said the trip to Vancouver then to New England becomes tiresome, but these trips aren't bad.