Gruenebaum back, physically ready for big Montreal clash

Andy Gruenebaum

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OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum got the physical break he needed for his ailing back by not making the trip for Wednesday’s match at Philadelphia.

He didn’t, however, get the same psychological respite as he watched his teammates record a dramatic 2-1 stoppage-time win despite playing down a man the final 22 minutes, a win backstopped by Gruenebaum's understudy, Matt Lampson.

Gruenebaum was at a local pub with other Crew players who did not travel and watched from afar as Eddie Gaven’s goal in the 95th minute sealed a third straight win.

“It was good to get a game off and get Matt some experience,” Gruenebaum said of Lampson’s first career start and second appearance. “But watching the game on TV was not much of a mental break because we were all going insane. It was crazy.”

His next view of the Crew (11-8-6) will be different because, barring last-minute complications, Gruenebaum will be back in the lineup against visiting Montreal on Saturday in a crucial Eastern Conference matchup (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

“The fact Andy’s back is awesome,” midfielder Dilly Duka said. “For what he’s done for us this year, he’s been our backbone.”

Gruenebaum has a 9-8-6 record with seven shutouts and 1.15 goals-against average and carried the team for months until an offense that averaged one goal through 21 games got a boost from the recent additions of forwards Jairo Arrieta and Federico Higuaín.

The Crew now have 10 goals in the past four games.

“There’s a newfound confidence those guys brought,” Gruenebaum enthused.

Left out

Gruenebaum’s return will not be the only change, as left back Josh Williams will serve a red-card suspension. Julius James, a second-half substitute in the Philadelphia win, will also miss out after being hit with a one-game suspension for violent conduct by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

Coach Robert Warzycha said Nemanja Vukovic, who lost the spot to Williams, is a likely candidate to replace him but Danny O’Rourke and rookie Ethan Finlay, a converted midfielder, are also under consideration.

Playing it safe

Coach Robert Warzycha subbed in Cole Grossman for defensive midfielder Chris Birchall late in the match to keep Birchall available for selection Saturday.

[Birchall] had a yellow card already,” Warzycha said. “The way it was officiated I was afraid that he was going to get another one so we would be two men down. Plus, he was a little bit tired.”

Birchall will be suspended one game for yellow-card accumulation after his next caution. 

Watchful eye

Arrieta twisted his ankle against the Union but is expected to be ready Saturday. The Philly match was the fifth start in 15 days for him, Chad Marshall, Sebastián Miranda and Gaven.

Meanwhile, Warzycha has been monitoring the fitness of Higuaín since he joined the team Aug. 15.

“We said at halftime [Wednesday], if he’s tired to give us a shout so we can take him off the field,” Warzycha said of the 1-1 score at the time. “He said, ‘When we score a goal you can take me off.’ He didn’t give me a chance because there were only 15 seconds left.”