COLUMBUS, Ohio — Stoke City manager Tony Pulis was full of praise for Columbus Crew after the Major League Soccer side rallied to defeat their English Premier League opponents in Tuesday’s friendly at Crew Stadium.
The Crew netted twice in the last 20 minutes to hand The Potters a 2-1 loss in the first of their three United States tour games. Goals from Ohio natives and Crew academy products Aaron Horton and Ben Speas overturned Jonathan Walters’ first-half header.
“Columbus were very good,” Pulis said. “We knew all the games would be competitive, all the teams we’ll play against will be fit and well organized. They gave us a real game today.”
Stoke arrived in the United States at the weekend having spent last week at a training camp in Switzerland. The effects of the travel, a smothering 82-degree temperature at kick-off, and an intensive start to their pre-season preparations left Pulis’ side looking fatigued as the game wore on.
“It’s not about winning games in pre-season,” Pulis said. “It’s about the start of the season and getting the players prepared. The fact that we’re playing in the heat and humidity will make the players work harder and that’s what it’s about.”
Costa Rican striker Jairo Arrieta and second-year forward Justin Meram squandered early chances for the Crew before Walters gave the visitors the lead on 22 minutes. Ryan Shotton scurried down the right flank before finding the Republic of Ireland international unmarked at the near post to head past Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.
Both sides made wholesale changes at the interval and Columbus, midway through their MLS season, took advantage of their opponents’ inferior conditioning.
“The team that played second half had a hard session this morning because we knew they were only going to play a half-hour or so,” Pulis said. “They were running this morning. They came on and looked as though they’d been running this morning.”
Columbus’ equalizer came on 71 minutes from a cutback by Emilio Renteria. The Venezuelan forward appeared to be running out of room down the right wing, but he managed to hook a low cross toward the near post while off balance and almost over the end line. Horton arrived first to tuck the ball beyond veteran Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen.
Speas grabbed the winner with three minutes remaining, drilling his shot from the right corner of the penalty box beyond Sorensen with the aid of a deflection after Renteria laid the ball into the 21-year-old’s path.
“Obviously with the travel and everything else we looked a little bit leggy,” Pulis said. “I don’t want to take anything away from (Columbus). I thought they played really well.”
Stoke’s next challenge comes Saturday in Central Florida against affiliate club Orlando City at the Florida Citrus Bowl. The Potters face Sporting Kansas City in their last game at Livestrong Sporting Park on August 1.