The Columbus Crew began spring training this week, taking over the SuperKick facility in Lewis Center as they have for the past several years. The team has about two dozen players in camp, including a handful of outsiders hoping to win a contract. Some familiar faces are among the triallists, with everyone competing for spots on a roster that has been enlarged to 30 positions.
Friday’s practice followed a routine which is familiar too any player. Several minutes of individual running and dribbling were followed by stretching exercises designed to get everyone limbered up. Just two days into formal sessions, the emphasis is still on groundbreaking, and assessing everyone’s fundamentals. A figure-eight passing drill that emphasised one-touch control and quick movement was followed by a zig-zag drill with longer distances but very similar goals. The players were broken up into several groups for these drills, but the group rosters were somewhat fluid.
The playing portion of the practice concluded with a series of small-sided games, with teams of five field players facing off on a half-sized field. While it would be foolish to read too much into the combinations at this stage, some of the pairings used included: (names in italics indicate a guest player whose identity may not be correct)
- Rich Balchan, Chad Marshall, Eddie Gaven, Mark Blades, Emmanuel Ekpo
- Justin Meram, Cole Grossman, Leandre Griffit, Dilly Duka, Nelson Akwari
- Dilly Duka, Justin Meram, Eddie Gaven (Cory Elenio), Emmanuel Ekpo, Kwaku Nyamekye
- Shaun Francis, Cole Grossman, Leandre Griffit, Andres Mendoza, Robbie Rogers
- Mark Blades, Emilio Renteria, Rich Balchan, Nelson Akwari, Chad Marshall
- Kevin Burns, Emmanuel Ekpo, Andy Iro, Josh Williams, Bernardo Anor
Dilly Duka scored four times in one eight-minute scrimmage, receiving several assists from Justin Meram in the process. Asked about his performance afterwards, rookie Meram said simply of Duka “He’s a good player, it was fun.” Other players scored some long-range goals as well, and the energy level and attitude was upbeat.
The practice concluded with a weight-lifting session as several players received treatment for various knocks. The team is scheduled to lift weights on Saturday before breaking for the weekend, with full practices resuming on Monday. Warzycha and his staff will relocate everyone to Phoenix starting next Saturday, where the team will complete the bulk of their training – and squeeze in a handful of games – before returning to Columbus in time for the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals against Real Salt Lake on February 22nd.
Crew Technical Director Brian Bliss confirmed in a post-practice interview that defender Kwaku Nyamekye has been officially signed, despite earlier reports that it had been delayed. He was a full participant in Friday’s practice.
Defender Aaron Hohlbein, drafted by the Crew in the first stage of the Re-Entry Draft in December, has indicated through his agent that he will be signing a contract with Miami FC, with whom he played on loan in 2010. It was also announced late yesterday, however, that the NASL – the league in which Miami plays – has been denied sanctioning by US Soccer for not meeting the minimum requirements set forth for the second-division. There is still a narrow window for the league to address any concerns and re-apply for sanctioning, but Crew fans now have a slightly greater interest in the bureaucratic proceedings.
Contact between the Crew and striker Jeff Cunningham has cooled over the last week, despite reports late yesterday that Cunningham had apparently rejected a contract offer from Norwegian club IK Start. Bliss described the Crew’s perspective this way:
“There’s been less dialog in the last 7-8 days than there was 10-15-20 days ago. I’m not saying its not going to happen, but its kind of…your interests and your directions get swayed once training starts, and you start looking at guys going ‘wow, maybe that guy is not as bad as we thought’ or ‘he’ll be better than we thought, so maybe he could fill that bill at a lot less money.’“