Crew's Warzycha reflects on a busy pre-season
The goals in preseason are the same the world over, build teamwork, regain fitness, and don't get hurt. Columbus Crew Head Coach Robert Warzycha is looking to accomplish just that, perhaps strengthen the team if the right player comes along.
The Crew are fast wrapping up their preseason; after spending time in Columbus and Florida, the team is in South Carolina for the final tests before the games start to count, playing in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Columbus has already faced off against the hosts, tying 2-2 the Charleston Battery of the lower division USL-Pro league last Saturday and losing to Eastern Conference rivals Chicago Fire on Wednesday 1-0. They finish off the preseason on Saturday when they face D.C. United, a week before the season opener in Colorado.
Unfortunately, the Crew suffered some early preseason injuries. Warzycha admitted his frustrations, "The injuries we have right now don't help" remarking that it's hard to build a rotation with a constantly changing group of healthy players.
Starting goalkeeper William Hesmer remains out. He has missed the entire preseason with an ankle injury and the timetable for his return remains a question mark.
In more positive injury news, Chad Marshall and Eddie Gaven returned from minor injuries to take a starring role in last Saturday's action. Veteran midfielder Danny O’Rourke, coming off of major knee surgery and a lengthy rehab has now played in two consecutive matches with no ill effects.
Warzycha was more positive when the conversation turned to new acquisitions Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargas. Both are expected to be starters, but there is an adjustment period as teammates new and old get used to playing with one another.
Warzycha praised the speed that Mirosevic has adapted to his new team and league "He's doing very well. He's mature and just a very good player. He's definitely one of the guys that's going to make a difference."
Mirosevic has shown some of his skills on the field already. He has been in the middle of things as the Crew's new offensive maestro. He scored on a penalty kick on Saturday night while keeping the ball moving. He was constantly passing the ball out of tight spots and finding a little more space to work in. These skills were missing a little too often in the offensive third last year.
The coach was a little more circumspect in his assessment of Vargas so far. "(He) is a bit behind the speed of play in this league and due to his offseason injury he needs to get a little more fit to be 100%". Vargas is still expected to make a difference when he gets up to speed. Vargas is expected to build a partnership with the burly Emilio Renteria at forward, but getting into game shape has taken precedent so far.
While veteran additions have worked to build teamwork, the Crew's rookies have also had to adapt to the professional game. Warzycha sees two draftees ready to make an impact for the Crew this year.
First round draft pick Ethan Finlay has played extensively in both wide midfield spots in the absence of starter Dilly Duka due to U.S. National Team duty.
The coach had high praise for the winger, "Finlay is very dynamic, he's an energy spark, and he's working very hard." He also noted he's making an impact on the score sheet. "The last three games; he had an assist every game; he's producing."
Supplemental draft pick Kirk Urso has moved up the depth chart and earned preseason action with the first team. Urso has impressed the team with his effort, Warzycha observed "He just works. He works very hard and he has a good shot from distance." adding "He's one of those players that can change the game for you."
While he sees plenty of benefit to the preseason, Warzycha then cautioned that he doesn't place too much emphasis on performance during camp. "Some of the guys guys can do well in the friendlies because they don't mean that much." He later commented that the rookies especially haven't dealt with the higher pressure coming with the start of the regular season, "We are going to find out what they are made of when we start the season."
While the Crew only have one win this preseason, against an Under-17 developmental team, Warzycha keeps a positive outlook, "I'm pretty optimistic, we've brought in some good players in the offseason, but it's still a young team".
Even though the offseason is drawing to a close, the coaching staff hasn't stopped looking to improve. They continue to search for an offensive game changer who would take up one of the team's Designated Player slots. The Crew don't currently have a target, but the money is there for the right player.
While Warzycha would surely like to have the Designated Player in the fold, he didn't sound overly concerned, noting "We're going in the right direction". The team will find out if they've went far enough in the right direction on March 10th when they open the season against the Colorado Rapids.