It’s been just over three weeks since Columbus Crew SC opened preseason camp for the 2017 season. After the disappointment of a year ago, changes aplenty have been made to the Black & Gold.
This means head coach Gregg Berhalter has some interesting decisions to make before the new campaign begins on March 4.
Crew SC spent a large portion of preseason in Sao Paulo, Brazil where they worked on fitness and teaching the style of play with multiple two-a-days and games against tough competition.
“I think we’re getting there,” Berhalter said of his team’s conditioning. “I don’t think we’re all the way there. I think we’re on track, and what I mean by that is I think after the Charleston trip I think we’ll be right where we need to be to start the season.”
The Black & Gold are back in Columbus for a week before leaving on Thursday for the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, South Carolina. This is where Berhalter hopes to finalize things before the opening game against the Chicago Fire.
“The most important thing we’re going to accomplish out of the Charleston trip is cementing a starting lineup,” the head coach said. “Part of the message to the guys at the end of this week is there are still positions up for grabs. And we’re going to be evaluating closely in particular the first two games of the Charleston trip to finalize the lineup based on how guys are performing.”
The Black & Gold will also play a scrimmage against Coastal Carolina on the morning of Feb. 18.
According to Berhalter, fans should expect to see something close to the opening day starting lineup in the final game against the Sounders after the staff evaluates the players throughout the week.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to play two games on Saturday,” he said. “So we’ll have a morning game as well. Then based on the performance in those games, both of those games and Wednesday, Wednesday we’ll probably mix up the group a little bit, we’ll finalize it for Saturday.”
After a poor season like Crew SC are hoping to recover from, no position is safe. Berhalter has brought in plenty of new players and likes what he’s seen from those additions.
“I think when you look at some of the younger guys, they’ve been doing quite well,” he said. “The center-back position, we have some young guys who have done well. I think wide attacking midfield, some of the younger guys. At full back, (Jukka Raitala’s) done very well. Central midfield is another case where I suspect that a spot is up for grabs. So I think overall there’s still a lot to play for.”
The first few weeks of preseason for Columbus were about getting back to game fitness and teaching the new players how to play the Crew SC system.
With the regular season fast approaching, the final leg now becomes about performances of the players and determining who is ready to start week one when the Fire come to MAPFRE Stadium.
On the topic of a starting lineup, Crew SC is still looking for a goalkeeper.
While Berhalter says neither Brad Stuver or Zack Steffen has separated himself, he would like to have one player as the starter to begin 2017.
“I would probably prefer that,” he said when asked about having one player or continuing to work both. “I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I would probably prefer that. You want someone clear to emerge as the No. 1 and hopefully that will happen.”
As for another potential starter, Berhalter said he sees new signing Artur having an “immediate impact” on the Black & Gold. So when might the Brazilian midfielder join his team?
According to Berhalter he will be with the club in Charleston.