And so it begins. Columbus Crew officially kicked off the 2021 season with the start of preseason camp on Thursday and the team’s first training session of the year. This officially means the Black & Gold have begun the journey to defend the 2020 MLS Cup title the team won last December.
After the Crew reconvened in Columbus last week for medical examines and Major League Soccer’s mandated seven-day COVID-19 quarantine, the team departed for Chula Vista, California on Wednesday — just a day after debuting its new 2021 jersey at the club’s new downtown stadium — for the first stage of preseason.
Like the past two years under head coach Caleb Porter, Columbus will break this preseason into three parts, beginning with the trip to San Diego.
“We’ll follow our normal preseason process,” Porter explained on Tuesday at the event. “It’s nice to have the usual amount of time that you have to build the way we build in the preseason, from a tactical, a physical and a mental standpoint. So I’m looking forward to getting on a plane tomorrow, getting to Chula Vista.
“We like to start the first 11, 12 days, we’ve done this the last three years, in a concentrated way. We’re all together, there’s not much to do there, we’re staying a little bit in dorms. It’s pretty modest, humble. The facilities are great though and we can walk to everything. It’s a perfect way to start our preseason.”
The Crew will remain in Chula Vista until March 13. In that time, the focus will be on setting up the “tactical road map,” as Porter calls it, and establishing the way the team will play in 2021. The tactics are not expected to differ much from previous seasons, but having those reaffirmed to the 19 returning players from last year’s team is always good to begin a new season, as well as teaching the Black & Gold’s seven new additions the playing philosophy and integrating them into that style. That will be done over the first week and a half of preseason.
These days in California will be made up of double sessions as well as a lot of meetings between the players and the coaches as the team establishes the foundation of the 2021 season.
After Chula Vista, the Crew will return to Columbus for seven days. The players will get three days off before the Black & Gold resume training for four days in Central Ohio. Because of the pushed-back start of the campaign, the Crew hopes to train outdoors in Columbus and allow the players to be back home for part of the month-plus preseason.
“I think it’s good,” Porter said of having a portion of the preseason at home. “It’s warm enough this time around and the guys now can get a little settled. I think it’s great for them to see their families again. Some guys need to move, get settled a little bit in Columbus. We plan to have a scrimmage, actually, at (historic Crew Stadium) during that phase. We’ll probably open that up. We’ll see. I don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up. That will allow us to kind of get a dry run in our home stadium, which will be good. We’ll do a friendly there.”
The final stage of preseason will take place in Florida from March 21-April 6. This is the competition phase for the Black & Gold when the team begins to build more toward the regular season. In the past, the club has taken part in preseason tournaments — two years ago in Charleston, South Carolina and last year in Phoenix, Arizona. This year will be a bit different but have the same ideas.
“We’ll approach it, almost for those two weeks like they’re real games,” Porter said of this portion of the preseason. “We’ll get guys eventually 90 minutes. We like to give guys two 90-minute games and it’s more about competing, it’s more about winning now, results a little bit matter. We start to factor that in. We start to factor the opponent in, whereas the first three weeks is all about us and our philosophy.”
The Crew will be based out of Orlando and the team will play at least three friendly games to close out preseason. Massive Report has learned that the Black & Gold are expected to play fellow MLS sides New York City FC, Minnesota United and Orlando City while in Florida, with a potential fourth opponent to be added to the slate.
At that point, the Black & Gold plan to be ready to go to start the new season. The first game of 2021 for the Crew will be on Thursday, April 8 against Real Esteli in Managua, Nicaragua in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 followed by the return leg in Columbus a week later. While the full MLS schedule is yet to be announced, teams will begin league play on the weekend of April 17.