sports 3 days ago

Crew Cuts: Crew SC to open U.S. Open Cup play in June at Louisville City FC - FC Cincinnati winner

The Columbus Dispatch — Andrew Erickson The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

May 19--Crew SC learned Thursday it will hit the road next month for its first 2017 U.S. Open Cup game.

The winner of a May 31 matchup between United Soccer League teams Louisville City FC and FC Cincinnati will host Crew SC in a fourth-round game. June 14 is listed as the date for fourth-round games on the U.S. Open Cup website, along with a disclaimer that matches may be moved up a day.

FCC defeated AFC Cleveland of the National Premier Soccer League 1-0 Wednesday night to advance to the third round. Louisville City FC defeated the Tartan Devils Oak Avalon, a United States Adult Soccer Association team out of Pittsburgh, 9-0 to advance and face its fellow USL side.

Major League Soccer teams enter the tournament in the fourth round. Crew SC has typically used reserve-heavy lineups for U.S. Open Cup games and that is expected to be the case again next month. The Crew travels to Atlanta to face Atlanta United on June 17.

Crew SC won its fourth-round U.S. Open Cup game in 2016, defeating the NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies 4-0 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Midfielder Justin Meram scored the opening goal in the 41st minute, and Crew SC scored its next three goals in a span of 24 minutes.

The Crew then lost to the Chicago Fire, 2-1, in the round of 16.

Crew SC holds a 13-5-1 all-time in opening U.S. Open Cup matches.

Crew SC won its only U.S. Open Cup in 2002. The club also finished as the tournament's runner-up in 2010. FC Dallas defeated the New England Revolution, 4-2, in last year's final to win the 2016 U.S. Open Cup.

Building a rhythm

Five Crew SC players played in all three games in a span of eight days last week. Three -- midfielders Wil Trapp and Justin Meram, as well as goalkeeper Zack Steffen -- were no-brainers.

Midfielder Federico Higuain making three consecutive starts was a slight surprise. Another player many likely didn't expect to be added to the list of ironmen last week was center back Jonathan Mensah.

The 26-year-old designated player, acquired in early January to shore up Crew SC's back line after a rough 2016, has been playing consistent games for less than a month, his late start to logging regular minutes the result of a hamstring injury suffered March 25 against Portland.

A few days after he made his April 29 return against New York City FC, coach Gregg Berhalter acknowledged that Mensah had the look of a defender who was trying to get through 90 minutes. Mensah said he picked his moments and tried not to get too aggressive.

An early-season red card against Houston followed by the month-long injury made for a frustrating start for Mensah as he adjusted to a brand-new league. Berhalter said during that time he made a point of encouraging Mensah, reiterating the club's patience.

"I think the important message to Jonathan is, 'We believe in you. Don't put any other pressure on yourself...we'll be patient, we realize there's going to be a learning curve, we realize you're going to have to get to full fitness,'" Berhalter said. "I think that message was important to communicate with him."

In a month, Mensah progressed from participating in running drills off to the side as he built his fitness base to insisting he demonstrate his durability over the Crew's last three games.

"We didn't plan on him playing three games last week and he wanted to play the three games and it shows what he's about," Berhalter said. "He hasn't played three games (in eight days) in a long time. He wanted to grind it out. He wanted to be in there, having to fight through it and I think it shows what type of guy he is."

Given Mensah's recent injury and his continuing adaptation to MLS, why did Berhalter give in to his Ghanaian center back's request?

"It's part of the thing that he's trying to get this rhythm back and when a player's in a good moment, you want to support that," Berhalter said. "That went into the logic."

What came out of the decision was a fourth straight start for Mensah. Injury in the past and fitness building, he'll hope to keep stringing starts together.

Entering Friday

Entering Friday night of Week 12, which features Toronto FC at New York Red Bulls in the league's lone matchup, Crew SC (6-5-1) is third in the Eastern Conference with 19 points. Orlando City SC picked up a point in a Wednesday tie at San Jose, moving into sole possession of second with 20 points.

An idle Wednesday for Crew SC meant several teams caught up to the Crew in terms of games played. Crew SC is third in points among the six MLS teams with 12 games played, trailing Sporting Kansas City (22 points) and Toronto FC (25 points).

NYRB sit sixth in the Eastern Conference standings with 16 points. New England and Philadelphia are directly behind the Red Bulls, each with 13 points.

Up next

Crew SC travels to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Crew SC is 15-14-6 all-time in Foxborough, Massachusetts, giving the club five more road wins at New England than at any other MLS team.

@AEricksonCD

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