The Columbus Dispatch

Hernandez scores, Crew tie Houston in scrimmage

- Bailey Johnson

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With nine days left until the Crew open the 2023 MLS season at Philadelph­ia, Wilfried Nancy and his team are in the final stretch of preseason.

Nancy has taken a methodical, step-by-step approach to preparing his team for the upcoming season, and the final week of preseason camp in Fort Lauderdale is no exception. The Crew faced Houston on Wednesday for a scrimmage, their last of this preseason against an MLS team, and play their final preseason game Saturday against Hartford Athletic of the USL Championsh­ip.

For the Houston game, Nancy's goal was to play two groups for 45 minutes each, and the plan is for the starters to play a full game Saturday in the preseason finale.

"They played 75 minutes last game (against Miami on Feb. 11), everyone, so the idea now is to give them 45 minutes," Nancy said Tuesday. "Why (are we doing) 45 minutes? Because we want to increase, a bit, the intensity, but with a short volume. After that, the last game, the objective is to go almost to 90 minutes.

"More complexity in the concept. We're asking more things to the players. We like to challenge them, because they did a really good job the last game. Now, we are able to give them more tools about the way we want to defend, about all the specificit­y also of how we want to press, the way we want to attack with different animations."

Like the rest of the Crew's preseason games, Wednesday's was behind closed doors, but the teams agreed to release the final score — a 1-1 draw. Striker Cucho Hernandez scored for the Crew and the Dynamo tied the game on a penalty kick by forward Corey Baird.

Crew still looking for center back after trading Mensah

When the Crew traded Jonathan Mensah to San Jose on Friday, general manager Tim Bezbatchen­ko said the club was looking to sign a new defender and hoped to announce an acquisitio­n "in the near future." On Tuesday, Nancy implied the timeline may be a little longer.

"We are still looking for a center back, but it was the case before we (traded Mensah), so this is the same project," Nancy said. "I don't want to rush with that, because I want someone really specific in terms of what I want on the pitch. This is the target. The club works really well for that. Soon, we're going to be able to add one or two players to help the squad to be better."

The Crew are likely to play with three center backs this year, which has long been Nancy's preference, so adding at least one more to the group is an area of need for the club. As it stands, the center back group consists of Miloš Degenek, Keegan Hughes, Jake Morris, Philip Quinton and Josh Williams, and fullback Steven Moreira has also exclusivel­y worked as a center back in preseason. Xavier Zengue, selected with the No. 27 pick in the latest Superdraft, is also a center back, but is not signed by the Crew.

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