Saturday marked the dawning of a new Major League Soccer season, and the debut of a new-look Columbus Crew SC squad, featuring four new starters, all of whom made their MLS debuts. While the result was not what the team wanted, the performances from the new faces gave fans plenty to think about, and even feel encouraged by.
The spine of the Crew SC squad that took the field was where fans saw the majority of the new faces. Mohammed Abu partnered with Wil Trapp in the center of midfield, and new Designated Player Jonathan Mensah partnered Nicolai Naess in the heart of defense. Both partnerships showed much promise, but also room for improvement.
Jonathan was happy with his first MLS, but would have liked it to be in a winning performance.
“It was what I was thinking (it would be), just not the result,” he said. “It was good football, better than it seems on TV, we were just expecting a better result.”
“I was impressed, the league is growing a lot, and the players are very good,” he said of his debut. “It was tough, particularly in the second half, where we always had a man behind us, trying to push us.”
With the Black & Gold’s possession style of play, the central midfield is key to attack and transition both ways. If this initial partnership of Trapp and Abu is to be the pairing going forward, the chemistry will need to continue to grow between the two players.
Abu was happy with how it went in game one.
“Wil is a very good player,” he said. “Anytime two good players find themselves on the field together it’s always really good. It’s not perfect yet, but we’re working hard in training, and we understand each other, and that’s the most important thing.”
Within the last year, Columbus brought in Jonathan and Naess to help improve a struggling defense. The opening match showed signs that these two could form a good partnership as they continue to build a familiarity that only starter a few weeks ago.
“It’s very early to say, after just one match, but I think it’s going well,” Jonathan said. “We work hard in training and hope to improve game after game.”
Settling in on the field is only part of the challenge facing new arrivals, however. Getting acclimated to new surroundings, particularly in a new country, can be a struggle for some players, but Jonathan is adapting well.
“It has been very good. Having Harrison (Afful), Mohammed (Abu) and Lalas (Abubakar) has really helped me,” he explained of his fellow Ghanians. “Columbus seems very calm, I like calm places. It is not like Moscow, which was not very calm. It reminds me here of Spain or France. I like it a lot.”
While Jonathan has his countrymen, Abu’s comfort settling into a new city is even closer to home.
“My wife is from here, so it is not my first time in Columbus,” he explained. “When I was in Europe I would come and go, so I know quite a lot of places in Columbus.”
While he still has a bit of an adjustment period, Abu’s comfort with the city has made the transition easier. He’s even been able to help some of the other new players.
“Off the field, yeah. I tell them about some places, you know, ‘I’ve been here, it’s nice’, try to help show them around,” Abu said.
It is hopeful that these smooth off-field transitions help the players settle in on the pitch quickly. While they weren’t a part of last year’s disappointed, they were brought in to make sure that failure doesn’t happen again.
“We want to do much better than last season,” Jonathan explained. “Last year was tough (for the team) and we want to improve on that.”