Columbus Crew SC kicked off the 2019 preseason on Wednesday at the SuperKick indoor training center in Lewis Center, Ohio. Not only was this the first practice of the 2019 season but it was also the first time the team gathered together since the official announcement of a new ownership group of former team doctor Pete Edwards and Cleveland Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam, who purchased the investor-operator rights to the team from Major League Soccer this offseason.
It was a spirited training session to kick off the new year. There was also an overall sense of happiness and relief among the players and it showed in their play throughout the session, which last a little under two hours.
The practice began with warm ups, which started with a simplified version of the beep test to get the players’ heart rate up. From there, the team went through stretches before starting with some ball work.
Drills kicked off with the team divided into three groups. Two (sometimes three because of numbers) players were stationed at cones and head coach Caleb Porter walked his new team through pass-and-move drills. Multiple times, Porter reminded his team to “play fast but with quality.” The passing drills turned into give-and-gos, with players moving from cone to cone after each pass.
Porter then divided the teams into two groups for small-sided games. This drill was played on a third of the field with a player on each of the outside areas of the field as an outlet. The two teams competed to complete as many consecutive passes as they could without turning the ball over. They could use the guys on the outside as teammates. During this, Porter stopped the drill a few times to talk about how he wanted the team to press. He also emphasized “dominant football,” which is how Porter refers to his style of play. That drill progressed from a passing game into one with two mini goals at either end of the field.
At one point, Porter stopped the drill and brought the team together at midfield. He discussed with them what he calls “the two Ps in soccer,” passing and penetration. He said he wants to have 60 percent of the ball but if you can penetrate right away and create a chance, do it. He cautioned his players not to give the ball away, though. “The balance of the two Ps.” Porter also mentioned ball movement needs to have a purpose. “Having the ball but going nowhere with it is not good tactical football.”
After the drills, it was more conditioning for the Crew. They were separated into four groups again and had to run between cones spaced different distances apart. This began as a slow jog and the players had to increase as the time passed. There was a short walking break in between each run and this was repeated nine times.
- Following practice, new team president Tim Bezbatchenko spoke to the team. He introduced himself, talked about the pride he has always had in the Crew growing up in Westerville, and that he’s always loved the way this team plays. He also told them former goalkeeper coach Pat Onstad, who was in street clothes at practice, will be moving to the front office with him.
- In Onstad’s place on the field will be former New England Revolution goalkeeper and U.S. National Team assistant coach Matt Reis. The full assistant coaching staff will be announced on Friday and Massive Report will have updates.
- While Porter is going to play a similar style to former head coach Gregg Berhalter, there will be some noticeable differences. Some of those include the pressing and wanting to move the ball for a specific purpose. Porter wants possession but cares less about it if it’s not attacking and creating chances.
- There were a number of trailists in camp for Columbus. These included former Orlando City and New York Red Bulls defender Tommy Redding, Sebastian Berhalter, Denmark international Casper Sloth.
- It was clear to see the energy the Academy players and rookies (including first-round pick JJ Williams and recent Homgrown signing Aboubacar Keita). They brought motivation and energy to the training session that you would expect from young players that need to prove themselves.
- Redding, who had reconstructive shoulder surgery in August, is clearly not fit. During the end of the ball drills, he was clearly getting tired and was well behind on the runs at the end.
- The most fit players appeared to be Artur, Lalas Abubakar, Jonathan Mensah, Edward Opoku, JJ Williams, Hector Jimenez and Justin Meram.
- New winger Robinho was often talking to Artur and the Spanish-speaking coaches on the staff to have drills explained to him.
- At one point, Porter discussed with the team that they would start by building from the offense. This is different than the way Berhalter started each year but makes sense given the Crew struggled to score goals last year.
The Black & Gold will be back on the training field at SuperKick on Thursday before leaving for California on Friday. Massive Report will have plenty of updates from these two days of training.