Columbus Crew SC’s preseason was as good it gets as the team went undefeated in all six games it played, recorded three victories and three ties and took home the Carolina Challenge Cup for the third-straight time.
It was a very positive start for new head coach Caleb Porter and his coaching staff, who inherited an already established team from Gregg Berhalter and managed to add their own tweaks to it in such a short period of time.
Preseason was also, as it always is, better for some players than others. Even though it’s fair to say that the entire roster passed the eye test with no hiccups, these are the three players who raised their stocks over the past month. Here’s who Massive Report believes helped themselves the most before 2019:
The forward had little to prove after having a career year in 2018, when he scored 20 goals in 36 games for the Black & Gold. During the preseason, however, Zardes showed how important he is for the team and scored some important goals.
The U.S. National Team forward, who missed the first three friendlies while he was at the January camp, scored three goals in just two matches, both at the Carolina Challenge Cup, including a brace against Ohio rivals FC Cincinnati.
His backups, veteran Patrick Mullins and rookie JJ Williams, have both also scored in preseason as well, but odds are Zardes’ advantage over them in the contention for the starting spot just got larger.
The center back spot alongside Jonathan Mensah didn’t have a clear owner during the 2018 season with Josh Williams, Lalas Abubakar and Gaston Sauro (after he returned from injury) all splitting time on the field.
Taking preseason as the measuring stick, it seems the Argentinean has locked it down as Sauro not only started in four of the six matches but also had solid performances, helping the team to concede just four goals on the way.
When healthy, Sauro has proved to be a solid center back option, matching his good physicality with a confident game on the ball. All that can change as the season progresses, but he is the clear favorite to be on the field next Saturday in the season opener against the New York Red Bulls.
The Brazilian winger was one of the few additions made by the Crew entering the 2019 season and he seemed to have integrated pretty well with the team in just a month. He was even praised by Porter, who said he brings spice to the game.
Robinho has been deployed on either side of the field and has performed fairly well on both. He certainly scored points with the coach when he did the one thing he repeatedly said he wanted from his wingers in his limited playing time by putting the ball in the back of the net against the Charleston Battery.
It’s likely that we’ll see both Pedro Santos and Justin Meram in the starting lineup against the Red Bulls, but Robinho has quickly developed into the primary alternative for both spots and a real threat to the veterans down the road.