After forced into changes to his usual starting lineup for the first time in a couple of games, Columbus Crew head coach Greg Andrulis will face more decisions for Wednesday's return match against the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field.
The Crew were forced to veer from the lineup for victories against the MetroStars and D.C. United in the 3-3 draw against the Fire as Edson Buddle was in Florida due to the passing of his grandfather and Ross Paule felt symptoms of his most recent concussion.
Just as it had over a two-game stretch when Frankie Hejduk was away on international duty, the absences again allowed the Crew's bench a chance to shine. Jeff Cunningham took Buddle's role and scored two second half goals while rookie Danny Szetela admirably filled for Paule in the central midfield.
While Buddle will back for Wednesday's rematch at Chicago, Paule will likely miss the game, as the extent of his injury is determined.
But matters are further complicated as Tony Sanneh and Hejduk will be missing for the next two games as they are called into Bruce Arena's U.S. national team camp for World Cup qualifiers on Oct. 9 and 13. Costa Rican international Erick Scott will also be away from the Crew.
"The hard part for the MLS teams is you get in a groove with one team and then a couple of guys have to go away to their national teams," said Hejduk. "With the Crew, we have shown that other guys can step in. It just shows the depth of our team. We have a really good team and anyone can step in anytime and have a good game."
Anticipating the absences, Andrulis has played Sanneh wide on the right in midfield and also at right back, as he and Duncan Oughton traded off in a deep-lying midfield role. Defender Nelson Akwari, who has played well in 13 starts at right back, will likely come back to the starting 11 as Oughton takes Sanneh's place.
With Buddle back in the mix, Andrulis much then decide whether to keep Cunningham among the starters and go with three attackers as did for a stretch in the second half on Saturday -- or move Martino back to the midfield. Manny Lagos or David Testo could fulfill Hejduk's place on the right flank.
The Fire much also rework their lineup from the weekend match. Jamaican internationals Andy Williams and Damani Ralph and Costa Rican Andy Herron will be on international duty for CONCACAF qualifiers, and Dipsy Selolwane will be with the Botswana national team.
Nate Jaqua will be out through suspension after earning two yellow cards over the weekend, but the Fire should welcome back Chris Armas to the squad after serving his one-game suspension for accumulation of caution points.
Columbus will again be looking to clinch the Eastern Conference title after failing over the weekend, and with their last game in hand, will be aiming to pass the Kansas City Wizards for pole position in the standing for the Supporters Shield. Chicago hopes to use its home finale to inch closer to clinching a playoff berth -- which with the right circumstances, could be finalized this weekend even with the Fire off.
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.