Warzycha juggling Crew lineup to finish busy stretch

COLUMBUS – Nowhere in Robert Warzycha’s long resume as a player or coach do the words “master juggler” appear. But with a team that’s been hit hard by injuries, that’s what he’s trying to do, particularly with a stretch of three games in eight days finishing up against the Chicago Fire on Saturday (7 pm ET, Univision).

“You have to have some kind of rotation,” Warzycha explained after the Crew beat Seattle Sounders FC for the first time in seven MLS tries on Wednesday.

A 2-0 victory at CenturyLink Field capped a successful West Coast swing that also included a 1-1 tie with the Western Conference-leading San Jose Earthquakes last Saturday.

The Crew’s reward was an all-day trip home on Thursday with Warzycha no doubt trying to once again figure out who is healthy and who is fresh enough to face the Fire.

As has been the case for the past three games – four, if the concussion suffered by captain Chad Marshall in practice the day before playing at Portland on May 5 is taken into consideration – the Crew lost a player to injury, this time when midfielder Danny O’Rourke landed awkwardly on his left ankle and was subbed out in the 44th minute.

Renteria caps historic win in Seattle

“We think he twisted ankle but we’re going to get an MRI on Friday,” Warzycha said. “Hopefully it’s not a fracture.”

Midfielder Ethan Finlay suffered a concussion against FC Dallas on May 12 and midfielder Milovan Mirosevic strained his adductor against San Jose. Cole Grossman replaced Mirosevic for the second half of that match and earned his first career start against Seattle, making him a likely candidate to start against Chicago.

Midfielder Dilly Duka, battling hamstring issues all season, made his first start Wednesday since the season opener on March 10 but came out after 57 minutes. That early exit might allow him to be in the starting lineup Saturday if his legs are rested.

Rookie Kevan George, meanwhile, made his MLS debut when he replaced O’Rourke.

“He didn’t show any signs of nervousness or pressure,” Warzycha said of George. “He played like an old pro.”

Others who will vie for midfield slots include Eddie Gaven – who logged 180 minutes on the West Coast – Tony Tchani and Bernardo Anor. Chris Birchall stayed home to gain fitness and he may be ready to make his Crew debut on Saturday off the bench.

Warzycha rested forward Olman Vargas and defender Eric Gehrig against the Sounders with an eye on Chicago. Vargas returned from a three-week injury layoff to go 90 minutes against San Jose, although that was not the plan.

“I wanted to take him out and have him ready for Seattle, but Mirosevic got hurt,” Warzycha said.

Emilio Renteria started instead and scored his first goal of the season to seal the win over the Sounders. If he starts, Justin Meram, who has goals in three straight games, could move to the wing.

On the backline, the veteran Carlos Mendes made his initial Crew appearance in place of Gehrig. Mendes missed the first 10 games because of a hamstring strain.

Mendes will likely provide cover off the bench for any of the defenders’ positions while there is no question Andy Gruenebaum will start in goal following two astounding games.