Well after many in central Ohio went to bed, Columbus Crew SC fell 3-2 to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in both team’s first game of the Pacific Rim Cup.
The match featured entertaining soccer for both teams, but also mistakes by each side, which you should expect in a preseason contest.
Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter deployed two different lineups for each half as he looks to build his roster and starting 11 for the 2018 Major League Soccer season.
Since many fans did stay up until 3 a.m. ET to watch the game, here are some thoughts from the match.
It’s definitely preseason
First, don’t get too worked up by the score. This was the first real preseason game for Crew SC, who still has nearly a month until the MLS season starts, while Sapporo is nearing the start of its regular season, meaning the Japanese side is much further along in the team’s preparation.
This also means there are still plenty of kinks to work out as players attempt to get back in game shape and into the swing of soccer.
It’s also good to note, as it is every year, that preseason results are rarely indicative of where the team is. These players always want to win, but they also know when games matter and when they are exhibitions. While some guys are playing for roster spots, many of these players are going through yet another preseason and just hope to be ready to go come March 3.
Zardes looks like a forward
Since the trade of Ola Kamara to the LA Galaxy, the concern among fans has been that Gyasi Zardes won’t be able to replicate the Norwegian’s production over the last two seasons. On Thursday/Friday, he demonstrated the traits necessary to be successful in Crew SC’s offense.
One of the biggest knocks on Zardes, who spent the last two seasons playing more on the wing than as a pure No. 9, is his touch. While it wasn’t perfect against Sapporo — remember, it’s preseason — it was much better than Twitter would have you believe.
The first goal was a good example of this where Zardes received a throw in in the penalty box and, despite being mauled by a defender on his back, collected, turned and fired a shot on the bounce that beat the goalkeeper. This was a quality finish and one of a few nice plays he was involved in.
Zardes has not been used primarily as a No. 9, his preferred position, in some time given the talent — or last year the lack of talent — on the Galaxy’s roster. In Berhalter’s system, he’s going to be deployed up top and have his chances. If he finishes like he did in this match, Columbus will be just fine offensively.
Milton Valenzuela was recently added to Crew SC’s roster and Berhalter described him as a more defensive fullback than some of the others the team acquired in recent years. He was right.
While Valenzuela did get down the left side a good amount during his time in the game (the first 45 minutes), it is clear that he’s not used to the attacking side of things, at least not yet. While he did get an assist on the opening goal, there wasn’t a ton of offensive action down Valenzuela’s side.
With that said, the Argentine did prove his worth defensively. He recovered well from any runs forward and made a few key tackles. While Sapporo focused a lot of its attacks down Valenzuela’s side, the danger came from the opposite side, as did both first half goals.
There continues to be a lot of hope for 21-year-old winger Cristian Martinez, but Thursday/Friday’s game showed the same player that joined Crew SC two years ago. Martinez does a lot of running around the field, but often doesn’t produce much.
The Panamanian’s time on the ball was not productive, his runs on the wings were often off from his teammates and he is a liability defensively (allowed his man far too much time to cross on the first goal). The Black & Gold are hoping to replace Justin Meram, but, after one 45-minute preseason performance, Martinez does not appear to be the guy.
Same old Mensah
Jonathan Mensah became known more for his mistakes in 2017 than for his productive plays. While the center back settled into MLS as the season progressed, there always seemed to be one head-scratching moment in a match that either cost his team or nearly did. That happened again in this contest.
The Ghanian got caught a bit too far up the field on Sapporo’s winning goal and his attempt at an acrobatic touch to deny a ball over the top was a miss. It left the recovering Lalas Abubakar to cover two guys, something he was unable to do.
To Jonathan’s credit, he was strong the rest of his time on the field. The defender made a couple nice tackles and had a quickly thought out pass to Harrison Afful when he was put under pressure.
Second half wingers
In the second half, Berhalter played Niko Hansen on the right and third-round draft pick Luis Argudo on the left. Although the Black & Gold could not muster a goal, these two both showed positive signs.
Hansen, a second-year player, was good on the ball, willing to take defenders on. He looked much like the player Crew SC fans saw last year before injuries derailed his season. Argudo showed his speed and touch on a long switch of the field that found him running into the penalty box. His cut back fooled the defender, but his decision to take another touch instead of shoot allowed the goalkeeper to smother the chance.
Both players flashed in the second half, which will make Berhalter and Columbus fans happy.