Both players and staff noted how a different vibe was emitted at the training grounds on Friday, and rightly so.

As the Crew returned to full-team training a day after learning about the Club's group stage opponents in the MLS is Back Tournament, which is set to commence on July 8 in Orlando, Fla., players and staff gave their thoughts on how they feel going into the competition. 

TRAINING | Porter, players share excitement for return to training, MLS is Back tournament format -

"It was a great day. It felt different. You could see a bit more of a buzz. The players were extremely excited to be back and doing what they normally do, and for coaches as well," said Head Coach Caleb Porter.

As the players resume relatively "normal" training circumstances in the three weeks up to the tournament's kickoff, Porter commended the players' committed efforts in ensuring this transition period is as optimized as possible by maintaining a solid performance baseline over the last three months.

"We’ve had to be creative. I give the players a lot of credit because for what they’ve done over the last 12 weeks, 13 weeks is incredible to maintain the base fitness that they have," Porter said, adding that "the credit goes to the staff, of course, but more so to the players because they had to work on their own and the [voluntary individual workouts] helped, but to be back at full-team training, we can really accomplish a lot towards Orlando."

For Gyasi Zardes, who scored his first goal of the season in the Black & Gold's 1-1 draw at defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders FC on March 7, spoke on the comfort that comes with not only knowing the season will resume, but now knowing who the Crew will be up against in the group stage.

"It’s a great feeling because before, you’re training and you don’t know if you’re going to have a season or not, but now, we know we’re going to have a season, we know our opponent, and now we can prepare and have a goal in mind," Zardes said following Friday's training session.

As for the tournament's group stage, the Crew joins Atlanta United, New York Red Bulls, and FC Cincinnati in Group E.

Ghanaian defenderJonanthan Mensah, who is no stranger to high-stakes tournaments as a two-time World Cup veteran, spoke on the differences between playing in a typical regular-season match compared to what will unfold in Orlando in less than a month.

“Yeah, there’s a difference. Playing in the regular season is totally different from playing in a tournament like we’re going to do," Mensah said. "You need more rest, you need to take it game-after-game, and we will just prepare that way and go into the tournament strong."

Time will be of the utmost importance as Porter's staff have three weeks – including hopefully one pre-tournament friendly, he mentioned – to re-establish the momentum that the team had going for it throughout the first two weeks of the season.

"We have a way of working. We will go back somewhat to that, similar to what we did in preseason to reestablish and reconnect with regards to our model of play," Porter explained. "We’ll use the next three weeks to build the layers on our team, to reintroduce the concepts of how we play."

In his succinct words: "We’ll be ready."

Of course, there is a lot of preparation needed in a short amount of time. Regardless, everyone is in the same boat, and as Porter has said previously, he believes the support this Club provides its players puts the team is in as good a position as any to succeed come July 8. Along with a Concacaf Champions League berth on the line, plus prize money incentives, Porter and the rest of the Front Office know firsthand what kind of opportunity is at hand.

That said, there are some formidable opponents and rivals waiting on the immediate horizon with regular-season implications on the line.

"I think the first three games are very important because we know that those points matter for the regular season," Porter emphasized. "When you look at those three games and the two games we’ve already played, those five games, the points that we gain over those five games are really going to give us momentum into the rest of the year when we return.

"[I had] the opportunity to be in two Concacaf Champions League's in Portland, and I know in recent years … the Crew has not been in Concacaf Champions League, so I think it’s a pretty big carrot for us, but we have to get off to a good start, first and foremost, and those first three games are of the utmost importance."

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