Columbus Crew SC had the team’s final training sessions in a rainy Columbus on Tuesday before heading to Charleston for the Carolina Challenge Cup. The Black & Gold handled things a little different playing on Ohio Dominican University’s field in electing to do an 11 v. 11 intra-squad scrimmage.
The teams were determined based on a draft by the assistant coaches. Head coach Caleb Porter wanted to give his assistants a voice partway through the preseason and allowed them to pick the teams in the only way he found fair.
Divided up into an orange and gray team, here is how each side lined up from the start from right to left:
Orange: Joe Bendik; Hector Jimenez, Lalas Abubakar, Jonathan Mensah, Connor Maloney; Justin Meram, Ricardo Clark, Artur, Robinho; Federico Higuain; Gyasi Zardes
Gray: Zack Steffen; Harrison Afful, Alex Crognale, Gaston Sauro, Waylon Francis; Luis Argudo, Wil Trapp, Eduardo Sosa, Pedro Santos; JJ Williams, Patrick Mullins
The opening chances went the way of the gray team, with Mullins and Williams each having an effort that was not on frame. In the 16th minute of the 30-minute first half, Zardes punished the gray team for not taking their chances, latching on to a through ball from Meram after beating Afful to the ball and slotting a low shot past Steffen at the near post.
Four minutes later, Mullins and Williams combined for a good chance for the gray to equalize. The veteran forward received a pass inside the penalty area and chested the ball down to the rookie. Williams fired a first-time shot that went over Bendik’s crossbar.
In the 22nd minute, Sosa was forced to come out of the game. He was replaced by second-year player Edward Opoku with Argudo sliding into the middle of the park next to Trapp. Sosa, who injured his ankle in the last training session of the first preseason portion in Columbus, appeared to be moving fine after coming out of the game and even did laps around the field with the training staff, so this substitution may have been precautionary.
In the middle of the first half, the pressure of the orange team’s defense forced a rare turnover from Trapp. Higuain led the break the opposite way, running with the ball for about 60 yards before finding Zardes open on the right side of the penalty box. The forward played a ball across the box to Artur, but the Brazilian was whistled for an offside.
To start the second half, the only changes made were in the net where Steffen was replaced by second-year goalkeeper Ben Lungaard and Bendik took a seat in favor of Jon Kempin.
Just nine minutes into the second half, it was the two outside wingers combining for a goal for the orange team. Robinho took the ball down the left side, moved into the penalty box and reached the endline before hitting a pass back toward the penalty spot for a wide open Meram who finished to the back post for the 2-0 advantage.
In the 42nd minute, Aboubacar Keita checked into the game for Maloney, moving Jimenez to the right side, and Niko Hansen replaced Robinho.
Just 10 minutes after coming on, Hansen found himself on the score sheet. Higuain caught the defense sleeping with a lofted pass over the back line. Hansen was on the receiving end, turn the pass toward goal and cutting on to his left foot in the penalty box before slotting a curling effort by Lungaard for a 3-0 advantage for the orange.
Williams, who just two minutes before scored a goal that was called offside, finally got his goal in the 55th minutes. The forward played a one-two with Santos and fired a shot back post that beat Kempin to cut the lead to 3-1.
Before the end of the game, each team had more good chance to score. Meram played a dangerous low cross that Zardes just missed redirecting home despite a sliding effort. A minute later, Santos played a lofted cross that found the head of Mullins, but the forward’s headed effort was saved by Kempin.
After 60 minutes of play in wet conditions, the scrimmage came to a close with the orange team winning 3-1.
“We felt it was a good time, halfway through, to just break up and mix the groups,” Porter said after the game. “Most of the time we’ll have it shaped up where we have groups together for a reason to prepare for a game. But we thought it was a good idea today to just mix the groups. I want to give everybody a fair shake and a good opportunity to audition for parts and I thought it was really good. We scored four goals. I thought actually the group that lost 3-1 probably should have been up 2-0 but they had a couple of chances early — as we all know, it’s about the moments int he box and they didn’t finish the first couple. But I thought it was really good. It was really good to see and important to see before we start to put out what we feel like will be close to the 11 coming up in this tournament.”
- It was good to see the Crew scoring goals. After last season, where the team scored just 43 times and struggled to find the net early in the preseason, they will take solace in seeing the ball go into the back of the net the last two times out. There were also plenty of chances created, which is always a good sign.
- Luis Argudo stood out in this game. Whether it was on the wing, where he played for the first 22 minutes, or in the midfield alongside Wil Trapp, he was working hard, making good plays on both sides of the ball and seemed more in control than he was in his rookie season.
- Robinho appears to still be developing chemistry with his teammates and figuring out how to fit into the Crew’s system. A couple of times a ball was played and he made the wrong decision, either checking to the ball when he should have been going through or vice versa. In the second half, he looked better, setting up Justin Meram before coming out of the game.
- JJ Williams continues to be impressive. He combined well with Patrick Mullins up top for the gray team. Aside from his goal, he was very active, showed a good touch and an ability to use both feet when shooting/passing.
- Federico Higuain looks to be his normal self heading into the year. Aside from his assist to Hansen, Higuain was running the offense for the orange team, leading the fast break at one point and also playing pinpoint passes all over the field.
- Trapp looked a step slow on several plays, especially early. It could be that he was not used to playing alongside Sosa or Argudo as much or maybe just adjusting to playing in a 4-4-2 formation that the gray team played in but it was not Trapp’s finest performance.
- Defender Josh Williams warmed up with his team but did not play in the scrimmage. He was dealing with plantar fasciitis dating back to before the team went to California. Williams practiced in full on Sunday at ODU, did not practice on Monday at SuperKick and only warmed up on Tuesday.
Next up for the Crew is the Carolina Challenge Cup, a tournament the Black & Gold has won two consecutive times and three times total. The team will play three games in Charleston — against the Chicago Fire, Charleston Battery and FC Cincinnati — from Feb. 16-23. Porter said he will work more towards his starting lineup over the course of the tournament, with the final game likely being rather close to what fans will see on opening day.