Crew SC only played four games this preseason, but it was enough time to start developing some inferences from the lineups that head coach Gregg Berhalter penciled in as the preseason rolled on.
First, the minutes played by each player through the four preseason games and the total.
|Player||Sporting KC||Real Salt Lake||Swope Park||New England||Total|
Berhalter had said that he would play stronger lineups as the Tucson tournament progressed, but it appears that he prioritized building routine. He played a strong lineup for 60 plus minutes on Saturday, February 20th, the second game of preseason. He then split the team and played two separate lineups for 45 minutes each on Wednesday, February 24th. He then played his strongest lineup on the following Saturday, the February 27th. He didn't want to break his regular season game week routine, he chose to start building it early.
Berhalter has also clearly defined his his starters and they look familiar. Ten of the eleven players started in MLS Cup. Only a recovering Justin Meram has been omitted from Berhalter's Saturday lineups (Salt Lake and New England). The replacement was unusual. Hector Jimenez appears to have locked down a place in Berhalter's rotation and maybe even a starting spot as the season approaches, though Meram's sub appearances appear to put him in good position to reclaim his spot when fully healthy.
With first team minutes available at left wing this preseason, it's notable that neither Cedrick Mabwati or newcomer Emil Larsen was able to get time with what's expected to be the first team. Larsen may be still adapting to Crew SC's style of play, but Mabwati's issues may be more stylistic. He's a direct player where as Berhalter looks for his left wingers to play more centrally and are often tasked with more defensive responsibilities.
It's also unclear where the two other key newcomers fit into the rotation. Berhalter rotated the squad initially, but he's played the first and second teams as a unit. There's little way of knowing if Amro Tarek is the first or second choice backup to Gaston Sauro and Michael Parkhurst, though Tyson Wahl was Berhalter's captain on Wednesday against Swope Park in the second half.
Ola Kamara's late arrival to camp means he only got in one game, but there's signs that he's expected to be the second choice off the bench. First, the team did pay a transfer fee to get him. He was also the first choice off the bench before Casey on Wednesday against Swope Park.
It's dangerous reading too much into preseason minutes tracking, there are too many competing goals besides who wins. Berhalter appears ready to push out an unchanged lineup for the season opener against Portland. That game will be far more instructive. The goal will be three points and the coaching staff will manage accordingly. Who Berhalter starts and puts in the game day 18 will provide a crystal clear idea of how he sees his team, who has impressed, and who hasn't.