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Eastern Conference Championship

Crew midfield beginning to suffer as injuries mount

OBETZ, Ohio — The Crew’s disconnected midfield was noticeable during last Friday’s 2-0 loss at Colorado, when it took Columbus nearly 75 minutes to mount any serious threats.

“We lost a lot of balls in the midfield,” midfielder Bernardo Anor said. “We didn’t possess like we usually do.”

Correcting the problems would normally be a simple issue to address in practice, however with three-fourths of the regular starting midfield absent, it’s proving to be a tougher task than originally anticipated.

The latest victim is Eddie Gaven, who suffered a right leg contusion on Friday and has not returned to training. Gaven, whose four goals are tied with Emilio Renteria for second on the team, will miss his first game of the season this Saturday when the Crew host the New England Revolution (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE here).

Robbie Rogers, who was summoned to the US national team four days ago for Wednesday’s match in Philadelphia against Mexico, will miss this week’s training sessions, and Nigerian Emmanuel Ekpo will need to improve on his form if he expects head coach Robert Warzycha to re-insert him into the lineup.

When asked if Ekpo would be in the lineup versus the Revolution, Warzycha replied: “If he plays better than he did in Colorado, yes.”

The lackluster game by Ekpo and the rest of the midfield was due in part to Gaven’s exit. Without his pace and brains up and down the right side, the Rapids were able to neutralize center midfielder Dejan Rusmir and keep Ekpo from pushing forward to create chances in the final third.

Ideally, Warzycha would like to put Ekpo between wingers Gaven and Rogers, but finding help directly behind him has been problematic since rookie Rich Balchan went down injured a month ago.

“That was a good combination of Balchan and Ekpo,” said Warzycha. “Then Balchan got injured. We brought Tony Tchani to play over there [with Ekpo and] then he got injured.”

A groin strain will likely keep Balchan out for the fifth straight match and Tchani (knee) has not played since being acquired from Toronto FC on July 15. This leaves Rusmir, Kevin Burns or Cole Grossman as possible partners for wherever Ekpo plays in the middle.

Another possibility is Dilly Duka, who has been out since June 4 with a sprained ankle, in front of Ekpo. Rogers could switch sides to fill Gaven’s vacated spot and Justin Meram might start on the left flank.

Despite the unsettled midfield at the moment, the Crew (9-7-7) are leading the Eastern Conference because of a back line that is one of the better groups in the league.

“It may seem like we’re struggling offensively,” Duka said, “but our game plan is to play very good defense and catch a team off [guard] and score some goals.”