After just eight days of preseason training, the Columbus Crew faced Swedish side Malmo FF in Bradenton, Fla. Wednesday. The club notched a 1-0 victory, and despite the friendly nature of the match, Crew sporting director and head coach Gregg Berhalter said it was a positive showing.
"I thought it was a good test," Berhalter said. "[Malmo] is a team that could potentially be playing in the Champions League. They won the Swedish League… so it was going to be a test for us. They were also six weeks into preseason and we were eight days into preseason."
The Crew played each half with a different 11 players on the field, and Berhalter declined to give any indication as to who he favors for starting spots. Big names such as Federico Higuain and Wil Trapp were joined by rookies and trialists alike in the first half, while Dominic Oduro and newly acquired goalkeeper Steve Clark worked with some unlikely starters in the second as well.
What Berhalter did reveal was his preferred formation in the early days of camp. The Crew lined up in familiar 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders and three attackers behind the striker. But Berhalter said he was less than pleased with the execution of his tactics.
"I don’t think it was executed properly," he said. "It looked more like a 4-4-1-1, it wasn’t exactly how I’d like to see it. We still have work to do on it, and we need to work and get it down."
But despite acknowledging the attempt at a 4-2-3-1, Berhalter still won’t share what he plans to implement during the season.
"It’s hard to tell at this stage," he said. "We don’t have the full group in, we have some injured guys, so as we start getting more of our guys back and in camp, it’s hard to tell."
Berhalter said the team performed well in the early match, and midfielder Wil Trapp said the club worked through a tentative early stretch to find its rhythm.
"Obviously in the first game there are some jitters to work out, and some moments that you want to have back," he said. "But we came out with a win, first and foremost, and we played the way Gregg wants us to play, which is good."
Overall, it wasn’t great
Defender Chad Barson said that the revamped squad is still adjusting to new positions and faces.
"We’re still trying to get to know each other’s tendencies and how our teammates play," he said. "But for our first outing I think we showed positively."
The match was an opportunity for the Crew to continue to work on fitness, an area that Berhalter has emphasized in the early stages of preseason.
"We knew it was going to be a chance for us to get some good game fitness," he said. "The guys have been off for a long time. The last time they played a game was October."
Both Berhalter and his players have commented on the rigorous preseason thus far, and the coach said he has been pleasantly surprised with the fitness of the squad at the beginning of camp.
One area that Berhalter said would require improvement is in adapting to his style of possession. The Crew still seemed to panic and hit long balls that lost ball possession for the team, and the coach says they’ll need to improve.
"Overall, it wasn’t great," Berhalter said. "When we got pressured, sometimes we gave it up in spots we normally wouldn’t want them to. But it’s working out the kinks, it’s getting used to being out on the field again."
Despite any positives or negatives, Berhalter says, "it makes no sense," to dwell on negatives, and is happy to have a direction for work ahead.
"We need to work on everything, but it’s a good starting point," he said. "If we were nine days into training and I said it was a perfect performance, I think we’d be in trouble a little bit. We know there’s stuff to work on."