Under Gregg Berhalter, Columbus Crew SC players were used to preseason going a certain way. Of course there were new players added each year that had to learn and the location of the preseason camps sometimes varied, but for the most part, returning players knew what a Gregg Berhalter preseason was about.
Heading into 2019, the Crew have a different head coach for the first time since 2014. Caleb Porter took over for Berhalter, who left to become the head coach for the United States Men’s National Team, this offseason and his first preseason began last week.
While Porter and Berhalter are similar in the way they prefer to play, there are some key differences. Returning Black & Gold players are already learning Porter’s “dominant football,” as he calls it, and adjusting to a new style. While in the confines of a smaller field indoor in snowy Columbus, Porter could only teach so much. Since the team has been in sunny Chula Vista, California however, he’s been able to teach more.
For Porter, implementing his style of play starts with the offense.
“That’s always what I start with,” the head coach said. “The most important thing is to win you have to score goals and to score goals you have to have the ball. So I want to be a team that has the ball and hopefully it’s more than the opponent. So we always start with that and then we get into the layers”
The offensive side of Porter’s system will be the emphasis in the Crew’s first preseason game against Japanese side Vissel Kobe game on Monday night in Southern California. Porter’s plan for the first game is to not push his players too hard, playing two 35 minute halves.
Although it’s only been six days, Porter expects to see the players not only work hard for the time they are on the field but demonstrate some of the focus areas that have been stressed on the training field. From there, the team will progress into 45-minutes halves in the second preseason game on Monday against Los Angeles Football Club at Banc of California Stadium.
“We’ll stress some things going into that (first) game and really that’s the main thing we’ll be looking for in the game is the concepts that we’re stressing in the first game,” Porter explained. “Then obviously as we build, then we hope to keep the past and bring in the new and that’s how you build the layers on a team. You don’t lose the past stuff you’ve worked on but you build as you go and you take with you what you’ve worked on into the next game and slowly you build up physically each game as well.”
With another week to work with his new team, Porter will expect more in the second preseason match. Going against another Major League Soccer side will give the team a chance to test itself against a familiar opponent and see where they are with learning the concepts, both building on what was taught ahead of game one but also adding to that for game two.
“Then obviously, the next game, it’s 45 minutes but I’m going to want to see a few more concepts in those 45 minutes,” Porter said. “People always ask, ‘What’s the priority?’ The priority always is everything. But I can only ask my guys to do what I’ve trained them to do and that will be the emphasis in the first match, second match, third match but we’ll take everything with us.”
For Porter, preseason is a chance for him to get to know his players, both on and off the field. While there are some returning starters that are likely to remain in the first 11 under Porter, a new set of eyes could lead to differences. Over the course of the next five weeks, Porter will be looking at how the players perform in his system to help formulate lineups and a depth chart of sorts.
In the early games, at least, that means a rotation of players.
“We’ll rotate everybody,” Porter said. “That’s the great thing about preseason is everybody will get time, everybody will get a look, everybody will play and that’s great because we need to see everybody. We obviously know the team from the past, there are a few guys we don’t know, but there’s, in some positions, an audition for parts throughout preseason. We’ve got some things to decide in a few spots and always training matters. So it’s part of training, so they execute but part training so we can evaluate.”
Any time a new coaching staff comes in, there’s an adjustment period for a team after being so used to doing things a certain way under the old coaches. What should make the acclimatization easier for the Crew is that Porter is not all that different from Berhalter and the players already have a good base for him to build on this preseason.
“This is a good team, a technical team and it’s a team that’s been here,” Porter said, “so we’re really, I think, ahead of where I usually am with teams.”