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Tournament Days are Big and Important for Columbus Crew SC

You've heard of Crew SC's Tournament Days, but what are they really about?

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches of any sport want to create competition on their teams and Gregg Berhalter is no different. The Columbus Crew SC head coach wants his team to compete in games, but also wants his players to battle in practice to keep everyone sharp.

That's what Tuesdays are for at Crew SC's EAS Training Center.

"You've got to love Tuesdays," winger Justin Meram said. "They're going to be a grind. It's going to be intense. Everyone's battling. Everyone wants to be on the field and I think that's good. I think that pushes all of us."

Tuesdays are Tournament Day in Columbus. This means that the last portion of practice is dedicated to small-sided games as part of a tournament. Each week, one team wins and the others lose and things can get feisty.

This Tuesday Emanuel Pogatetz could be heard screaming at assistant coach Josh Wolff who he believed missed an offside call, allowing a goal against the defender's side. After the completion of one game, midfielders Ethan Finlay and Hector Jimenez were jawing back and forth with Jimenez loudly telling Finlay to win a game.

"We go up in the locker room and just have a laugh about it," Jimenez said with a smile after training. "We have tomorrow off and at the end of the day, we have great chemistry and we'll go in there and laugh and forget about it and move on to the next day and come prepared to work."

Coaches don't want to see fighting within the team, but Berhalter does like to see his players get after it, especially on Tournament Day.

"Today was fantastic. It was spirited," Berhalter said on Tuesday.

"I like the competitive nature of this game. Today was a very high intensity and I like that. Obviously we're teammates and you don't want to take it over the line; you don't want to go overboard with it and that's the fine line.

"They all want to win and when you want to win, you have that competitive nature, you get emotional about it."

Tournament Day is more than just team competition as well for the Black & Gold. Berhalter and his staff look at everything the individuals do, keeping track of how well player perform and who is on the winning side.

"For us, it's about we want to see trends," Berhalter explained. "We want to see who's winning and who's not winning and we want to see if there's guys that should be winning and aren't winning and what's happening there. So we keep track of that all year long on a monthly basis as well to see what's going on."

The winning all plays a part on who is in the starting XI or on the bench for Crew SC on Saturdays. If coaches are seeing a trend with a player and seeing the performances they like, there is the opportunity to move up in the pecking order.

Of course there are specific training focuses that the staff is looking for as well. Each week, Berhalter works on specific areas of the game with his team and wants to see these put into practices in the mini games.

"To us, it's about putting a good effort and executing what we're looking for in these games," Berhalter said. "It's not just playing, we're looking for things."

The players spend the majority of training working on drills to perfect these skills. They know they are meant to be used during Tournament Day, but sometimes the desire to win and the fire of competition gets the best of them.

"Prior to jumping into that, we worked on shifting, pressuring," Jimenez said. "So we try and translate that to the 5 v. 5 Tournament Day. At the end of the day, the emphasis is to work on the stuff we worked on prior to jumping into that, but sometimes the competitive edge comes out of people and it's all over the place. At the end of the day, we all want to win so it's a good little fun competition."

Each week, as the players walk off the field dripping in sweat, it is apparent who had a good day and who did not. You can tell the teams that lost by how frustrated each player is walking to the locker room.

Typically tough days of practice are something players dread, but when there's Tournament Day at the end, a chance to really compete, win, and have fun, it makes it more enjoyable for everyone involved.

"It's one of those days where you know training session is going to be really good and intense," Jimenez said. "At the end of the day, we love competition and just coming into the training session knowing that we're going to have that makes it a lot better and enjoyable."