The value of these midseason MLS friendlies are really in the eye of the beholder. For a coach, it's a great time to see the squad depth tested. For a third string goalkeeper, it's a chance to get minutes. For a 17 year old rookie home grown player, it's a chance to think about something other than tomorrow's English final. Yes, Crew SC fell to Valencia CF 1-0 on an Alvaro Negredo goal, but Columbus still found some value out of it.
The Stuver Show
The first half was dominated by an individual battle. Brad Stuver is the third string goalkeeper backing up Steve Clark and Matt Lampson. So with Clark rested and Lampson injured, Stuver finally got a chance at some game time and he made the most of it. Valencia's star attacker, Negredo faced off against Crew SC reserve goalkeeper Brad Stuver. Negredo repeatedly found the seams in the makeshift backline and had three breakaway attempts while Kaylen Ryden, Tyson Wahl, and Kevan George struggled to deal with his insightful movement into space.
The first came in the 20th minute as Negredo took a through ball and was one on one with Stuver. The Spanish international attempted to chip Stuver, but the Crew SC goalkeeper came up with an impressive left handed parry that allowed the defense to clear. Stuver would again come up with the save to keep the game scoreless in the 30th minute. He smothered yet another Negredo breakaway chance with the Crew SC backline scrambling to catch up and clear.
Negredo would get the best of the third battle. He would again slip free of the Crew SC defense and find himself alone on Stuver. This time Negredo's shot would slip past the goalkeeper and give Valencia the deserved 1-0 lead.
Stuver and Negredo would face off one more time in the 70th minute as the Valencia forward redirected the driven cross with a backheel attempt. The deft touch was snatched up by Stuver. This time Negredo appeared to give Stuver some grudging respect for his fine goalkeeping performance. He even had a late chance to be the hero when a last minute corner kick fell to him as he pressed forward in the attacking penalty area. His half volley was blocked and cleared.
The Study Break
Ben Swanson had yet to appear in a Crew SC uniform joining the team officially in January. The 17 year old is still a full time high school student, one of the reasons that he hasn't gone on loan to get more playing time. With Gregg Berhalter looking to get most of the squad playing time, he was told that he'd get 45 minutes against Valencia.
Swanson was tasked with playing the advanced "Number 8" midfielder in Berhalter's formation showed of impressive speed of thought, deft touches, and some very good vision. He's likely to be a good player in MLS and even beyond as he gets more experience and develops physically. Tomorrow, he goes back to high school and tries to pass his English final as classes wind down.
Even the head coach found a silver lining in what could be the dreaded midseason friendly. Berhalter said the game was a great chance to test some of that depth and get his entire roster some minutes. It was a challenge to rotate the squad. Ethan Finlay was rested to give his broken toe more time to heal and to avoid aggravating it. Michael Parkhurst joined Clark as a healthy scratch.
Kaylen Ryden, Sergio Campbell, and Swanson got their first minutes with the team. 6'7" Adam Bedell made his 2015 Crew SC debut as the trequarista. He was indeed asked to drop into midfield to pick up the ball. Romain Gall started at right midfield as he tries to get back to game fitness after an early season injury. The biggest thing is no one got hurt.
Crew SC now move on to a league game against Orlando on Saturday night. The team struggled in San Jose and failed to finish out the Chicago game. Perhaps a meaningless friendly may just be the reset that the team needed to mentally reset as they head into a very busy stretch of the season. Or perhaps they'll have tired legs as they have three games in a week upcoming.