Joining the Black & Gold in September 2014 following the European offseason, coming to Major League Soccer was quite the adjustment for Austrian defender Emanuel Pogatetz. Arriving in Columbus with his new teammates already in midseason form, it was a challenge for Pogatetz to break into Gregg Berhalter's starting XI.
But after a full offseason in the Arch City, the Austrian has his sights set on making an impact for Crew SC in his first full season with the club.
"Obviously, my first goal is to make it into the starting XI," said Pogatetz. "Hopefully I can make a good enough impression in preseason for Gregg to decide to hand me a spot in the first XI. Hopefully, if I can achieve that, the overall target is to have a successful season and continue with the style of play and success we had last season."
Not only did matching his teammates' fitness present a challenge last season, but adjusting to the travel and play of MLS was something Pogatetz worked hard to adapt to upon joining the club last season.
The travel is limited in the much smaller European countries to which the Middlesbrough, Hannover 96 and 1. FC Nürnberg veteran is accustomed. Luckily for Crew SC, the club only makes five trips west of the Mississippi River during the nine-month 2015 season. On top of that, the physical nature of the League is different compared to leagues in Europe.
"There’s a lot of distance we have to cover during the year by playing, traveling time zones," he explained. "I think that is something I’ve had to adjust to. I think the guys are pretty fit. I think everyone can run. It’s just a different style of play. Again, we play a different style. We’re very offense-oriented. That’s something I have to adjust to as a defender, maybe because we play a very offensive style of football. Sometimes it’s a different way to defend in certain situations. It’s just something we work on in preseason, and so far I’m pleased with the progress."
While pushing for a spot in the starting XI when Crew SC kicks-off the 2015 season in Houston on March 7, Pogatetz says the competition in the Black & Gold backline has done nothing but help build a strong bond with his fellow defenders.
"I think we have a great relationship amongst each other," he said. "Obviously, in the end we’re all fighting for our spots in the First Team, but we still have a good relationship personally. Most of all, I think we all drive each other on. We want to make each other better because it’s competition and that’s good for all of us. It keeps everyone on their toes.
"We’re pushing each other to do our best and progress, and so far it’s working really well."
Pogatetz and Crew SC play their first preseason match of 2015 on Friday at 6:45 p.m. ET against FC Dallas as part of the ATX Pro Challenge in Austin, Tex.