Columbus Crew SC underwent the second day of 2019 preseason practices on Thursday morning. The Black & Gold trained once again at SuperKick in Lewis Center, Ohio, going through another spirited session after Wednesday’s training opened up the new year.
Like on Wednesday, the session began with some warm up activities to get the players loose and the blood flowing. The team started with lateral movements and side-to-side hopping over a marked out distance that slowly built into runs. The warmups moved to nearly full-field runs — it should be noted, the fields at SuperKick are bigger than a traditional indoor field but not as big as a full size outdoor field. These were timed with players having to make it from one set of cones to the other end of the field in 16 seconds or less.
Once the players were prepared for play, the drills began.
The Crew started with a simple possession drill, with one player inside a circle of five. Those five on the outside attempted to pass the ball around with one or two touches while the man in the middle looked to win it back. If the ball was won by the player in the middle, the person who gave it away moved to the middle of the circle. Head coach Caleb Porter raised the stakes when he added in the stipulation that if you lose the ball, you do five push-ups. He then pitted groups who had the most consecutive passes against another group and then upping the ante even more by making the loser of the ball do 20 push-ups.
The team then moved into another possession drill that featured more pressure. Inside a rectangle was a 4 v. 4 possession game. On the outside of the rectangle were three neutral players with another neutral player involved on the inside. The teams rotated in and out of the rectangle, with the coaches keeping track of who could complete the most consecutive passes under pressure.
During this, the goalkeepers largely worked on the other field with new goalkeeper coach Matt Reis. The group, made up of returners Jon Kempin and Ben Lundgaard, former Orlando City goalkeeper Joe Bendik and Academy prospects Logan Kowalczyk and JT Harris did some fitness but also did some work shooting on each other from different angles. Whoever was in goal had Reis standing behind them as he gave instructions and tips.
To end the session, the group broke into three teams for a “full field” scrimmage. This was actually 9 v. 9 but it was the first time in the last two days the players got a chance to shoot on a full-size goal with goalkeepers.
The lineups were mixed and there wasn’t much to read into who was playing with whom. We did note the attacking midfield pairings with each team: blue was Niko Hansen, Federico Higuain and Pedro Santos; pink was Edward Opoku, Sebastian Berhalter and third-round SuperDraft pick Justin Donawa from Dartmouth; and the team with no pennies was Justin Meram, Eduardo Sosa and Robinho.
During these games, Porter stopped play from time to time to emphasize some key points. He told the team that they eventually have to break the line going forward after one group did too much passing along the backline. He also stressed getting into the front half of the field, “The front half is where you dominate.”
There were only two goals scored in the four games played with Meram scoring one for his team and first-round SuperDraft selection JJ Williams banging home a cross from Hector Jimenez. After the Williams goal, Porter got excited, stating he loved the build-up play.
The session ended with a cool-down portion with the players doing full-field runs that started with 20 seconds to get there and back and slowed as it progressed.
- There are a few injuries already to report. The first is that Josh Williams is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his heel and did some conditioning and stationary bike work but was not on the field. Porter said he expects Williams back tomorrow. Niko Hansen left during the first scrimmage, tossing his jersey down before heading over by the locker room. He sat with trainers looking at what appeared to be his right ankle. The winger came back and watched most of training but did not return to play. Porter was unsure of the injury. Eduardo Sosa suffered what may have been a non-contact injury during one of the scrimmages. He went down in agony and did not get up for some time. Sosa was clearly in pain. Porter said he thought it was an ankle but needed to talk to the medical staff. Sosa left SuperKick on crutches appearing to have a knee injury.
- Tommy Redding, who played for Orlando and the New York Red Bulls previously and was a trailist on Wednesday, was not at Thursday’s training. Porter said he is gone from the preseason group.
- Porter said after the session that he was really pleased with how hard the group worked the last two days and is impressed with how technical this team is.
- It is clear that Porter’s drills are all about competition. Whether it’s forcing losers to do push-ups or just always keeping score, he wants there to be a winner and a loser and motivate the players to be on the winning side.
- Recent Homegrown signing Aboubacar Keita is very vocal when he plays. This is uncharacteristic for a rookie but it likely helps that Keita trained with this team last year.
- Robinho came to the Crew known for his speed but that is hard to demonstrate on the smaller field at SuperKick. He did show good positioning and a willingness to work back to get on the ball.
Columbus leaves to begin training in Chula Vista, California on Friday and will be out there until Feb. 6. That portion of preseason will include two preseason scrimmages.