OBETZ, Ohio — Rookie Cole Grossman was pleased to start two Champions League quarterfinals against Real Salt Lake just a month into his first Crew preseason camp, but he was disappointed that it took nearly two-thirds of the regular season for his first MLS appearance.
Grossman, a midfielder out of Duke University, played 12 minutes against Portland last Saturday to become the sixth first-year player to debut for the Crew this season.
“I really wasn’t nervous, I guess for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I wasn’t really expecting to play,” Grossman confessed.
Grossman’s pro career got off to a solid start in the Champions League when Columbus and RSL drew 0-0 in Crew Stadium on Feb. 22 but, like his teammates, he struggled in the return leg a week later during a 4-1 loss that eliminated the Crew. The rookie got the chance to start because the roster was still fluid due to late signings and injuries.
Once things settled down, Grossman was limited to four Reserve League matches. He scored in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup loss to the Richmond Kickers on June 28 after missing several weeks in May due to a concussion.
“It’s certainly not what you envision before the season how your season is going to go,” he said.
Coach Robert Warzycha said patience is the key for the 22-year-old Grossman and all the young players itching to contribute.
“It’s got to be the right time for me to put them on the field,” he said.
The Portland game presented the opportunity. There was no score when Grossman went into the center midfield as a replacement for defender Sebastián Miranda. The Crew moved to a 3-5-2 formation and got the lone goal of the match from Eddie Gaven in the 79th minute.
“He did well [vs. Portland],” Warzycha said of Grossman. “The time was right. He helped the team win the game. He was active. He was running with the ball, making good passes. Overall, it was a good performance.
“The way we were playing in the second half, he was comfortable in that position,” Warzycha added. “I wouldn’t put him in a situation where he played by himself in the middle and ask him to just change the game for us. We switched the formation, that’s why it was much easier for him.”
Grossman, who grew up in the soccer hotbed of St. Louis and trained for seven months with the Brazilian pro club Curitiba during his junior year of high school, got to live out a dream on Tuesday when he played 30 minutes against the Premier League’s Newcastle United in a friendly.
“Seeing guys like Alan Smith, Jonás Gutiérrez and [Fabricio] Coloccini is always cool,” Grossman said, who exchanged jerseys with Smith afterward. “I’ve been watching [Smith play] since way back when he was at Leeds then Manchester United. I was pretty excited. He probably thought I was annoying, but he was real nice and friendly.”