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Crew using final weeks of MLS season for preparing for 2020

Despite the no playoffs, the Black & Gold are still training.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York City FC Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Major League Soccer ended earlier for Columbus Crew SC than the club and its fans would have liked but, even though the team’s match schedule is as open as it gets until the end of the year, Black & Gold players are still making near daily trips to the team’s (at least for now) training center in Obetz.

The Crew last played on Oct. 6 and after one week off, the players returned to Columbus for a four-week training period targeting the 2020 season. The first week had most of the players involved but after the end-of-season roster decisions were announced, just 15 athletes remain working four days a week under the guidance of head coach Caleb Porter.

“The offseason is longer this year so this is a way we found to bridge the gap between the end of the season and the preseason,” Porter said about the decision of keeping the players active. “We felt it was important to do four weeks of training. I know at first guys were probably not looking forward to it and were skeptical about it, but it’s been fun. I mean, what are going to do, sit around all day and do nothing for three months?”

At the end of the training period, the team is expected to play a closed road match against the Chicago Fire. The players’ routine during these weeks also include some team-building activities, such as an afternoon spent at the Topgolf facility in the Polaris area last week which was shared on the team’s social media channels.

“I was very clear with the guys that this is not punishment, but actually a privilege. It means you’re still in the team,” Porter added. “We’ve made it enjoyable and we’re using everyday as a building block. We’ve planned it the right way and we have clear objectives. So even though there are no games, we still can come together and make progress, whether it’s chemistry or a little concept. It will help us next year.”

For some players, however, the extra training sessions bring some added value. Team captain Wil Trapp and forward Gyasi Zardes were called up to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team in a pair of CONCACAF Nations League matches against Canada and Cuba in November and they certainly appreciate the opportunity of keeping their form with the rest of the Crew roster.

Left back Milton Valenzuela, who was sidelined for the entire season due to an ACL injury, is also benefiting from the extra training sessions. The Argentinean has been slowly increasing his workload in practice, including being full-go this week, and the additional weeks will likely put him in a better spot at the end of the season.

The sessions at Obetz are also being used by Porter and the coaching staff to give a closer look at the team’s 2019 MLS Superdraft fourth-round pick Rafael Mentzingen. The Brazilian attacking midfielder had a great USL League season with Lansing Ignite and could be added to the roster in 2020. For that, he also needs to make a good impression over the next weeks.

The season is done, but the year is not over yet for the Crew.