Columbus Crew SC finished up game action in Brazil today with another loss, this time to Serie D side Ituano 2-1. This follows losses to Brazilian giants Sao Paulo 7-0 and Serie D team Audax 3-0. The team now heads back to the United States and will train in Columbus a week before heading to the Carolina Challenge Cup.
It's hard to tell how to weight the results. Brazilian teams are already back playing live games, all three teams are taking part in the Campeonato Paulista, the championship for Sao Paulo state that is separate from the Brazilian league. The in form opponents provided a stern test for a Crew SC team that is just shaking off the rust of a preseason.
The decision to head to Brazil has given Crew SC a secluded location to prepare for the 2017 season. It's likely something played into Head Coach Gregg Berhalter's decision to break from the usual preparations in the United States. There has only been snippets of highlights, from a touchline camera at the Sao Paulo match, and no reported lineups. Given that it's just less than a month away from opening day, it's doubtful that the team was looking to get results. Berhalter has talked about integrating the new players into the team.
The isolation also provides the perfect platform for Crew SC to tinker away from the prying eyes of the rest of the league. Berhalter has been married to his 4-2-3-1 system since coming to Columbus, but even the coach has admitted that they are looking at other options including a three man backline. A trip to Brazil would give the team a perfect chance to install a new system without distraction.
The Brazil trip doesn't give the media or fans anything to chew on. There's little way to figure out who might be starting in goal next month. How the defense is settling or if Mohammed Abu is pressing Tony Tchani or Wil Trapp for starting spot remain open questions. Even trialists could come and go from camp without creating a ripple. For a coach that prizes secrecy, it's the perfect environment.
The team's next game is 12 days away as they face the expansion Atlanta United. By then the team will have to start taking shape. Nearly a month of preseason will be in the books and the season will be two weeks away. Decisions like starting goalkeepers or new defenders will have to be ironed out and put into practice. Much of the preseason in Brazil happened in a proverbial "Black Box". The results that start to matter come next.