COLUMBUS, Ohio – The scores were irrelevant to the next steps taken by the Columbus Crew to eradicate the memories of a lackluster loss one week earlier at Colorado to open the MLS season.
Under May-like conditions at Crew Stadium on Saturday, the Crew experimented with formations and personnel and welcomed the return of goalkeeper William Hesmer in twin exhibitions against college side.
Columbus bested Michigan State 5-1 in the first game behind two goals by Olman Vargas (above) and Milovan Mirosevic and one from rookie Kirk Urso. In the second match, Aaron Horton had the lone goal in a 1-0 victory vs. West Virginia.
Urso, who helped North Carolina to the national title in December, harkened back to his days in college.
“I was thinking about that the other day,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “We played Philly, when I was at UNC. We played USL teams. It’d exciting to take a step back from where you were and where you are now.”
Crew head coach Robert Warzycha replaced the one-striker approach that was used against the Rapids in the 2-0 loss and started Vargas with forward mainstay Emilio Rentería as midfielder Tony Tchani was sent to the second game with the reserves.
Also, defender Eric Gehrig started while Danny O’Rourke rested. As expected, rookie Ethan Finlay replaced injured midfielder Dilly Duka (hamstring).
Finlay said Crew mentally needed to step up against the collegians.
“It’s probably one of the toughest things to do as a pro and I’m saying that only three months into my pro career,” he said. “It’s tough to get a mentality about [the games] because you were there. Those kids fight, you know what I mean? It’s their big game. It’s their national championship for their spring season. They come here to try and get a result.”
Hesmer, out for most of the preseason with an ankle sprain, made his first appearance and went the final 45 minutes in the first game and the first half of the WVU game.
The Crew return to MLS play on March 24, facing Montreal in their own home opener.