Columbus Crew SC kicked off its preseason on Wednesday with an indoor training session at SuperKick in Lewis Center. The day’s events included a trio of draftees donning the Black & Gold for the first time since the 2018 Major League Soccer SuperDraft last weekend.
The all-Atlantic Coast Conference trio included goalkeeper Ben Lundgaard of Virginia Tech, forward Edward Opoku of the University of Virginia and midfielder Luis Argudo out of Wake Forest.
“It’s just good to see them working,” Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Working hard and pushing through it. Performing at this level is different for them. It’s good to see how they’re reacting to their teammates and just getting used to the overall level of competition.”
The highest expectations of the three likely fall on Lundgaard, a first-round pick and former First Team All-ACC selection and Top Drawer Soccer Best XI Third Team member. He was selected 21st overall last Saturday and recorded 23 shutouts in 70 starts in college.
Despite the stop and start-nature of a week that has included medical and fitness tests for his new team, Lundgaard seems to have retained all optimism from last weekend. He praised the culture of his new team, noting how the coaches make an effort with their players off the pitch. Veterans such as midfielder Justin Meram have already reached out to Lundgaard.
The veteran that Lundgaard is most excited to interact with is fellow goalkeeper Zack Steffen, who has yet to report to Crew SC due to being in camp with the United States Men’s National Team after a banner year in MLS.
“It’s going to be great training with him because of his composure and how he plays and I’d like to study his game a little bit and bring some of it into my game,” Lundgaard said. “It’s going to be great to work with him and work under him and see how he trains and plays.”
Lundgaard has known of Steffen prior to this year. He says he now looks up to the USMNT member.
The second-round pick Opoku is no stranger to a Crew SC training session, after taking part occasionally last season. The 32nd overall draft selection dreamed of playing in Columbus. He prayed to God in the draft room that he would land with his friends and countrymen on the Black & Gold.
“I count myself as the fortunate one among all the draft picks,” Opoku said. “To be able to come to this program, this organization and have the people you know and a coach that trusts you, it’s the best possible outcome for me.”
Opoku is the fifth Ghanaian player on the Crew SC roster. He joins defenders Lalas Abubakar, Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful along with midfielder Mohammed Abu. Both Opoku and Abu came to the U.S. through the Right to Dream Academy.
“I came there as a young guy, a young kid, a really skinny kid,” Opoku said. “He took me under his wing, he helped me a lot. He helped my family a lot through my time there and guided me through my whole time there until he left and we’ve been able to keep in touch since he left.”
Argudo, Crew SC’s third-round pick, recorded nine goals and 10 assists in 48 appearances over two seasons at Wake Forest before being selected 67th overall by Columbus. The first member of the Black & Gold to greet Argudo at medicals was a bit jarring for the rookie.
Veteran midfielder Federico Higuain made a point to introduce himself to Argudo early and encouraged the third-round pick throughout practice. The two play similar styles at a similar position. Argudo is ready to learn from the maestro.
“It’s insane,” Argudo said. “It’s funny because the first time I saw him I was like, ‘that’s Higuain.’ He’s obviously a sick player in the MLS and for the Crew and it’ll be fun to share a locker room with him because I know I’ll learn so much from him and other guys like that.”
Tactics are a strong point for Argudo, and Berhalter noticed. The head coach made a point to explain that to the attacking midfielder after he drafted him. Argudo enjoys ball control, transition offense, slowing down a runaway game. These are all Crew SC strengths. He expressed that his preferred position in the Columbus system would be on the right wing, but he’s up for anything.
“Obviously, if I get a chance to go in the game and have Higuain play me a ball or now that we have [forward Gyasi] Zardes, obviously that helps a lot,” Argudo said. “I’m here to help. Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play. I don’t really care. Hopefully, I get a shot and we go from there.”
The lone Crew SC draft pick not in attendance Wednesday was midfielder Jake Rozhansky out of Maryland. Picked 44th overall in the second round, Rozhansky signed with Maccabi Netanya of the Israeli Premier League last week. The Black & Gold will retain his MLS rights.
“From my understanding, he signed a six-month contract in Israel, so I don’t expect him to be in soon,” Berhalter said.