Young Columbus players step up during injury crisis

Crew defender Josh Williams

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OBETZ, Ohio – There is a little bit of silver lining amongst all the injuries that have befallen the Columbus Crew: young players are getting opportunities they might not otherwise have received.

Head coach Robert Warzycha has used 19 players through the first six games this season. Of that group, rookies Ethan Finlay, Kirk Urso and Aaron Schonfeld have made starts. So has Josh Williams, the defender who joined the club in September 2010 but did not make an appearance in a league match until coming off the bench March 24 against Montreal.

“Who knows? Maybe they would have had to wait a few more games to play some games,” Warzycha said. “They are getting experience. In preseason you have your team. I don’t think as many players would be on the field right now in this few games.”

The Crew have been without potential starters such as goalkeeper William Hesmer and defenders Rich Balchan, Carlos Mendes and Julius James all season. Additionally, midfielders Danny O’Rourke and Dilly Duka have missed games due to injuries.

Moving up the field, forward Tommy Heinemann played the first match but underwent surgery and is out for the season and rookie midfielder Ben Speas is recovering from surgery as well.

“If we had all our players healthy and playing we would not give up so many goals and not as many players would see the field,” Warzycha said.

The Crew are 2-3-1 and winless in three as the team struggles not only to replace injured players, but integrate offseason signees Milovan Mirosevic and Olman Vargas as well.

“We’re challenging our depth because of the amount of injuries,” technical director Brian Bliss said. “Guys are making contributions. Robert’s managing it well.”

In the hunt

Bliss said the Crew remains in pursuit of a Designated Player for the summer transfer window and he’s headed to South America soon to negotiate with a player.

He told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday that he’s trying to coordinate a meeting with the player, his agent and the team president. The forward was one of three players approached earlier this year about a potential contract but offers to him and the others were rebuffed at the time.

“We’re focusing on this one player but there are options in case it falls apart,” Bliss said. “There’s no guarantee the deal is going to work but it’s a step in that direction. We’re coordinating this trip so we can nail this thing down or move on.”

He added that the Crew have already factored a DP contract into the budget as well as on the roster.