Five things to watch for in Wednesday's scrimmage vs. Malmö FF
Fans will get their first official look of the new era of Columbus Crew soccer on Wednesday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET / LIVE STREAM on MLSsoccer.com) as the Black & Gold square-off against Swedish Allsvenskan champion Malmö FF in Bradenton, Fla. The preseason friendly will be the highly anticipated first match under new Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter as he looks to put his stamp on the club's culture.
Though the result of the match will not have any long-term ramifications, plenty of questions are on the minds of the Columbus faithful heading into the contest without having seen Berhalter's management style yet. Here are five things to watch for in Wednesday's friendly:
1. What will Berhalter's on-field vision look like?
Through 10 days of training at IMG Academy in Bradenton, only the Crew's players and staff have an idea of what kind of tactics Berhalter will bring to the touchline. Berhalter admitted that fitness and team building would be the focus during the Black & Gold's first preseason trip to Florida, but that hasn't stopped the former U.S. Men's National Team defender from starting to develop a tactical understanding from his players.
"It's going well," Berhalter said over the phone on Tuesday. "We've had great examples of what we're trying to do in training and through their play. [The players] have been great at interpreting it."
Wednesday will bring the first opportunity for Berhalter's vision to be executed on the field against a foreign opponent.
"It's a good chance for us now to try these things against another group that hasn't been preparing for it," he explained. "That's the most important part. When we play against each other in scrimmages in training, the other team kind of knows what to expect. I'm excited to see what it looks like."
While Berhalter has started to impart a tactical identity to his players, don't expect a finished product against Malmö.
"It's takes time [to develop a tactical understanding]," he admitted. "It takes a long time. It's going to take a while, but that's why we keep working. We work every day to try to get it."
Added forward Dominic Oduro: "We [worked on tactics] a little bit this morning and the shape and formation he wants to play. Today, we worked through some technical stuff and we'll try to use that in the game tomorrow. It's a work in progress. We know it, the coaches know it.
"So far, I think everybody's done a great job."
2. Will Parkhurst play?... And where?
Perhaps the biggest signing of the Crew's offseason, defender Michael Parkhurst arrived in Florida Sunday night fresh off a 90-minute performance for the United States against South Korea on Saturday.
Berhalter said on Tuesday that Parkhurst would play against Malmö, but wouldn't reveal where.
The 30-year-old earned the 2007 MLS Defender of the Year Award as a centerback and spent most of his career overseas as a rightback. Parkhurst's versatility was tested over the weekend as Jürgen Klinsmann played Pakrhurst on the left side of the backline, improving his chances at a spot on Klinsmann's 23-man roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in June.
While Berhalter has stated that he sees Parkhurst as the long-term replacement at centerback for stalwart Chad Marshall, the Sporting Director and Head Coach noted that Parkhurst could see time at rightback if it helps his chances at making the World Cup roster.
"I could see us trying him at different positions," Berhalter said Tuesday.
3. Who's in goal?
The Crew entered preseason camp with four goalkeepers after selecting Brad Stuver in the Waiver Draft and acquiring Steve Clark in a sign-and-trade deal with Seattle Sounders FC to join Matt Lampson and Daniel Withrow in competition for the starting spot.
While the effort has been there through the first week of training, Berhalter said that it's too early to tell who will be between the pipes when the Black & Gold open the 2014 MLS season at D.C. United on March 8.
The new Head Coach noted that both Clark and Lampson will see time in net against Malmö.
"It's way too early to tell," Berhalter said. "The important thing is that they're all working hard and fighting for a spot. We want all four of them contending to be the first goalie. We're going to give both Steve and Matt half a game tomorrow, and then we'll get Brad and Daniel some playing time as we go on.
"It's a free contest right now."
4. Where will Oduro play?
Just as he did during the 2013 regular season, Dominic Oduro has split time at both right midfield and forward in training under Berhalter so far this preseason.
Wherever Berhalter should choose to play the team's leading scorer last season against Malmö on Wednesday, Oduro feels he can make an impact.
"Either way, I'm happy to be on the team and I'm ready play wherever he wants me," he said Tuesday.
As for the rest of the starting XI, Berhalter is still sorting that out during the team's training sessions.
"The purpose of this camp is for some guys to make the team, for some guys to earn starting XI positions," the Sporting Director and Head Coach said. "That's been sort of the theme throughout. It doesn't happen in a week, it takes some time.
"We're going to keep evaluating and move forward."
5. A week in, how fit is the Crew?
With a week's worth of running training sessions under his belt, Berhalter says his team's fitness levels are well ahead of his projections.
"[The fitness] has been better than expected," he admitted. "I was a little bit unsure of what kind of condition the guys would come in with, but they've been phenomenal. They're in very good condition. We're building the power, the endurance with every session."
An eight-year MLS veteran, Oduro said Berhalter's trainings are like none he's ever experienced before.
"His training sessions are different from all the teams I've been on," Oduro said. "It's tough, which is expected in preseason.
"The energy here has been really fantastic. I haven't seen anybody down. Everybody is excited to take it to the next level."