Columbus Crew SC started its preseason a couple of weeks ago but it has been hard to follow the team’s preparation for the upcoming 2020 Major League Soccer season so far. After two days of physical tests in Columbus, the team headed to Chula Vista, California. Right now, the Black & Gold are at their second preseason destination, Cancun, Mexico, where the team will stay until the end of next week.
Very limited information has been released from the Crew camp and players and head coach Caleb Porter haven’t been made available to the media yet, despite PR staff promising teleconference calls, so tracking what’s happening in camp is no easy task.
But we tried anyway.
The most valuable pieces of information regarding the Crew’s preseason so far are the two friendly matches the team played in Chula Vista against USL League Two side Ventura County Fusion and MLS rivals Vancouver Whitecaps, from which we have the team’s starting lineups, final scores and what we learned from sources close to the team. Columbus was scheduled to play Orlando City SC on Saturday, but the game was cancelled due to poor field conditions.
With that in mind, here are five early conclusions about this year’s Crew team. But please, don’t take them too seriously. We should be able to confirm or reject them in two weeks, when the Black & Gold play at the 2020 Visit Tucson Cup, in Arizona. But as of now, they’re just observations.
Pedro Santos is keeping his pace
Pedro Santos was
arguably the Crew’s best player in 2019 and the Portuguese midfielder seems to not have missed a step in the new year. Santos scored in both preseason matches, a penalty kick in the 5-1 win over the Fusion and one-touch rocket in a 1-1 tie against the Whitecaps, and raised the expectations for another good season in Columbus. The winger could be a pivotal piece in the team’s campaign in 2020, especially at the start of the year, when Designated Player Lucas Zelarayan will likely still be adapting to the team and the league.
Vito Wormgoor is a lock besides Jonathan
When Dutchman Vito Wormgoor was signed, the feeling was that he would form the starting center back pairing with Jonathan Mensah. And that’s exactly what happened in both preseason matches so far. It’s impossible to evaluate Wormgoor’s performance in the matches not having watched them, but the prospect of having a pair of experienced, athletic center backs in front of Eloy Room is definitely exciting.
Valenzuela is completely recovered
The Crew missed Milton Valenzuela in 2019 but the Argentinean left back seems to be fully recovered from his knee injury as he started against both the Fusion and the Whitecaps. Valenzuela was already taking part in pretty much every no-contact drill during Crew’s training sessions at the end of last year, so that’s not unexpected to have him back at this point, but to have him fully fit should provide a massive upgrade for the team’s backline.
The team needs more bodies at central midfield
The Crew started the preseason with just three experienced center midfielders on the roster and after the recent news involving Wil Trapp’s trade to Inter Miami, the Black & Gold are limited to only two solid options at the position in Artur and Darlington Nagbe. Homegrown Players Aidan Morris and Sebastian Berhalter can both play there too, but they’re unproven at this level. It would not be a surprise to see at least one, maybe two signings made in that area.
Porter’s biggest question is on the wing
It seems that the only question Porter has to answer in the starting lineup for the opening match against New York City FC is who’s going to start on the wing besides Santos. Luis Diaz started the first match and Youness Mokhtar saw the field in the second when the Costa Rican was with his national team, so it seems to be an open race between these two. Diaz certainly left the better impression among the two last season, but Mokhtar is more comfortable on the left side, leaving Santos with his preferred right wing spot, so it’s hard to predict what the outcome will be.