Crew's Francis trying to sport a smile despite struggles

Robert Warzycha, Shaun Francis

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OBETZ, Ohio – Shaun Francis usually carries a smile and a sunny disposition, even when the skies in Columbus are gray.

The Jamaican tries to be upbeat and spread good cheer on a daily basis. But he admitted to MLSsoccer.com that lately he was downcast after a so-so preseason opened the possibly that he could lose the left back spot to Carlos Mendes.

“A couple of days ago, my confidence was really low,” Francis said on Wednesday. “I tried to be happy. I like to make people laugh. Even at times when I’m down, I try to show a positive side of things but sometimes it really gets to you, though. You have to really work on it to keep that smile.”

Following last Saturday’s washout of the final preseason game in Charleston, S.C., coach Robert Warzycha said the lineup he would have fielded that night against D.C. United would likely be the one that started Saturday at Colorado in the season opener (6 pm ET, MLS Live).

His first XI included Mendes, an offseason acquisition from New York, for Francis. Mendes has since been hampered by a hamstring strain and Warzycha on Wednesday said a Mendes start against the Rapids was not a given even if he was healthy.

In fact, it sounded like the start against D.C. would have been an audition as Francis’ backup.

“It’s important to have a second guy that can play that position,” Warzycha said. “We tried somebody different. That doesn’t mean Frano wouldn’t play.

“With his performance [in preseason] we were a little bit concerned and trying to find somebody else that would play there in case,” he added. “It’s not that I’m unhappy with his performance. Just sometimes it goes like that for one guy and it’s better for the other guy to play.”

That said, the position continues to be a concern. Francis developed enough as a rookie that by the end of the 2010 season he had unseated veteran Gino Padula.

However, injuries limited Francis to six games last year, leaving room for Josh Gardner to play the majority of the matches. But Gardner was left unprotected and subsequently taken by Montreal in last November’s Expansion Draft.

The Crew looked at Lance Laing in the preseason but did not sign him; they drafted defender Jamie Finch as well, and most recently have brought in Nemanja Vukovic as a non-roster invitee still training with the club.

It was telling when Warzycha was asked by MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday if he was happy with Francis’ progress in preseason that he paused three seconds before answering, “I think he can play better.”

When pressed, the coach said Francis has to have better decision making. It’s something the veterans in Canary recognize as well, and are determined to help with.

“Frano’s a good player,” centerback and captain Chad Marshall said. “He’s still a young player. He needs to have the confidence of the guys around him and not stress out when he’s on the ball.”

Francis said the coaches have been very encouraging and have helped him read the game better while telling him to relax.

“They said don’t focus on the last pass if it was a bad pass,” he said. “No one is perfect, just go out there and play.”

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