Players returning from injury give Crew new feel

OBETZ, Ohio — The Columbus Crew are undergoing a roster touchup, but they’re not making trades or spending money — players are just recovering from long-term injuries. Rookie midfielder Rich Balchan could be the next returnee if he is cleared Saturday for the Crew’s match against Philadelphia at Crew Stadium (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

The Indiana product has been out since suffering an adductor strain July 2 at FC Dallas, but resumed training this week.

“He looked OK,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “We limited him a little bit to what he’s doing on the field.”

Balchan has his teammates from whom to draw inspiration. Midfielder Dilly Duka and forward Emilio Rentería returned to the lineup on Saturday in the Crew’s 3-1 win against New England. Coming off the bench, Rentería notched a goal while Duka recorded an assist.

“It was exciting to see because we all came in at the same time doing rehab together,” Balchan said. “It was good to see them make a seamless transition back onto the field and I hope I can do the same.”

There are still players out — notably midfielder Eddie Gaven and forward Jeff Cunningham — but with the impending returns of Balchan and midfielder Danny O’Rourke, the Crew are as healthy as they have been in months as they carry a three-point lead in the Eastern Conference into the final 10 matches of the season.

The Crew went shopping for reinforcements during the international transfer window, which closed Sunday, but came up empty. Still, captain Chad Marshall said the team has a different feel now that players are off the injured list.

“We didn’t have to go out there and bring someone in because we’ve got enough good players and those other guys are coming back,” he said.

Warzycha noted that the reintroduction of Rentería and Duka to the lineup will help more than just in the games.

“You see what happened last week," he said. "Bringing in Dilly and Rentería, I felt like we added two players to the team. The biggest thing is the competition in the practice. We now have a lot of players for selection on Saturday so there’s competition today. They are playing harder, running faster. That’s what makes them better.”

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Saturday’s showdown with second-place Philadelphia could have a side attraction if Freddy Adu plays. The Union's newest star debuted last weekend in his return to MLS after a four-year absence.

As a 14-year-old he went to D.C. United with the first selection in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft. The second pick? The Crew tabbed a Stanford sophomore named Chad Marshall.

“I hadn’t even thought of that,” Marshall said of the possible matchup. “[Adu] brings something different to their team. Hopefully we can watch enough video this week and figure out how to deal with their attacking players.”