Columbus Crew SC opened preseason camp just 10 days ago, but new head coach Caleb Porter already likes what he sees from the Black & Gold.
“Honestly pleased with where we’re at,” Porter said on Friday. “And I would say, based on experience, going through MLS preseasons and being with MLS clubs that in a lot of ways we’re further along than I’ve ever been with the team.”
Porter has done the Major League Soccer preseason before. His first season with the Crew will be his sixth in the league after coaching five seasons with the Portland Timbers. During his tenure in Portland, Porter built multiple playoff teams and one MLS Cup champion... won against the Black & Gold at MAPFRE Stadium.
So when Porter says that this Crew team is further along than those he’s coached in the past, that carries some weight. Porter gave credit for Columbus already being in the advanced stages of his preseason development to the work of the team under his predecessor, Gregg Berhalter.
“I think a big part of that is it’s a group with a lot of continuity,” he said. “So there’s an understanding, a baseline understanding of how to play in the attacking phase and defending phase that’s been drilled in them and that gives us a very strong foundation to work from.”
The Crew began the first stage of preseason in Columbus, training at the indoor facility of SuperKick. After two days, the Black & Gold moved out west, setting up training camp in Chula Vista, California, just outside of San Diego. There, Columbus was able to begin training on full-size fields, working outside as soccer was intended to be played.
On the West Coast, Porter began to install more of his system. His plan throughout the preseason is to slowly introduce the concepts of his system, progressing with each step between games.
Thus far, the Crew has played two preseason games. The first scrimmage was against Japanese side Vissel Kobe, which featured David Villa, Lucas Podolski and Andres Iniesta and was played in two 35-minute halves. The Black & Gold managed a 0-0 draw in the team’s first game action in 2019.
In that first preseason contest, Porter wanted to see his team execute what they’ve been working on in practice.
“What I’m looking for is in those 35 minutes, can we, in all phases, execute the way that we want to play, big picture,” he said. “But typically I’ve been pushing a certain phase in that 35 minutes. And so I’m looking for that to show up more specifically. Then obviously physically, can we manage those 35 minutes in a way that’s good?”
Porter was impressed with what he saw from his team in that first outing. While the offense wasn’t quite what he hoped, the Black & Gold held a team with three former World Cup winners scoreless.
“I thought in the first game specifically we were very organized,” Porter said. “It was a game Vissel Kobe had a lot of the ball. They wanted to have the ball, and we had to probably defend for longer periods than we wanted but I was very impressed with how we were able to manage that and not get opened up, not get broken down. I don’t think they had a clear chance other than a set piece the whole game and that shows the organization in the team.”
Heading into the second preseason game, Porter wanted to see more from his offense. Columbus did not create enough going against Vissel Kobe and the head coach wanted more control from his attacking players.
“I saw that improvement in the Tijuana game. We were able to control the game,” Porter said. “We were able to control large periods of the game with the ball starting from the back and playing out but then also a little bit more in the front half. Against Vissel Kobe, we had a lot of nice passing actions in the back half but then it fizzled out in the front. In the Tijuana match, we were able to play out and get control in the front half and then create chances out of it.”
According to Porter, there were “six or seven clear chances” for the Crew against Club Tijuana. While the Black & Gold won the game 1-0, those chances should have been goals if the final pass or the run to connect with the pass were better.
Like under Berhalter, Columbus is going to be an attacking team. Porter made it clear during the first two days of preseason in Columbus that his teams begin preparation with the offense because goals are needed to win games. By Porter’s standards, that side of the ball has not been good enough yet, but he admits that he will consistently discuss missed chances — as did Berhalter.
What has been good, though, is the defense, where the Crew has not given up a goal in 160 minutes of play. While Porter wants an offensive-minded team, he understands the importance of defense. After all, that’s how championships are won.
“We’re showing that really strong defensive foundation, and that’s why I think we’re ahead of where other teams I’ve been with,” Porter said. “I think we’re in a good spot but we have to — we’re not satisfied. We have to keep pushing and there’s a lot, lot, lot more to do and a lot more things we can improve in.”