LEWIS CENTER, Ohio – Trying to fully evaluate the Columbus Crew after eight practices on an indoor field not big enough for a full-side scrimmage is like watching a dress rehearsal from the backstage door and writing a critique.
“We did some basic work but you can’t do tactical things here – it’s too small,” coach Robert Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com on Monday after the Crew’s final practice before heading to Bradenton, Fla., to continue their preseason.
Yet, there were enough glimpses of the training to make a few observations:
1) The six rookies on hand from the start didn’t seem out of place or intimidated.
MLS 2012 first-round pick midfielder Ethan Finlay has a presence about him that suggests he could be an early contributor. As a bonus, he and new Home Grown goalkeeper Matt Lampson of Ohio State possess a charisma with the media that was lacking team-wide last season.
Another Home Grown, forward Ben Speas, was at ease on and off the field as well, suggesting that integrating the Crew’s academy players into the full squad occasionally is paying dividends.
2) Midfielder Milovan Mirosevic has had no trouble transitioning to his new club.
With the aid of defender and fellow Chilean Sebastián Miranda, Mirosevic quickly became one of the guys. More importantly, though, is that he showed a deft one-touch and unflappability under pressure.
“He seems really, really sharp and clean and is a very experienced,” midfielder Cole Grossman said. “He’ll fit in great and do well.”
3) Carlos Mendes might be an unheralded addition much like the signing of Josh Gardner last season.
The 31 year-old, acquired from New York via the Re-Entry Draft in December, brings experience and versatility to the back line.
4) Kirk Urso has good vision and reads the game well.
The Supplemental Draft pick out of North Carolina could be the sleeper among the draftees. Of course, there are also some concerns as camp broke for the Sunshine State.
5) What will be the attacking formation?
If Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas, who joined the club Monday, can connect with Emilio Rentería, Mirosevic might sit in center midfield and distribute the ball to them.
Mirosevic can also play beneath the striker, but the wild card is the possible signing of a Designated Player, who most likely would be a forward.
6) Left back is wide open.
Gardner filled in admirably for the injured Shaun Francis last season, but he was grabbed by Montreal in the Expansion Draft. Francis, entering his third season, is still raw and the Crew would like to see how Lance Laing, an NASL 2011 Best XI for Fort Lauderdale, does in the Florida camp.
7) Who will emerge as the holding midfielder?
Danny O’Rourke, who said he’s recovered from knee surgery in 2010, is the favorite, while Rich Balchan and Tony Tchani have to deal with injury questions. Considering six players started at that position last season, stability there might be the key to success in 2012.