OBETZ, Ohio — Columbus Crew coach Robert Warzycha said it’s just the way things go that a spate of injuries happened just as his team prepares for its busiest stretch of 2011 to date.
The Crew will host Real Salt Lake on Wednesday in their first midweek game of the season and could be missing two or three players in addition to midfielder Robbie Rogers’ continued absence while with the US national team. The Crew are also home to Chicago on Sunday.
Warzycha said Dilly Duka, who took Rogers’ spot at left mid and suffered a sprained right ankle during Saturday’s 1-1 tie at New York, is unlikely for Wednesday. Forward Tommy Heinemann injured his left hamstring in the same game and was being evaluated Monday afternoon.
The Crew (3-3-6) will likely be without forward and leading scorer Emilio Rentería (left quadriceps strain) for a third straight match, and rookie forward Justin Meram left Monday’s practice to see a doctor because he had been feeling ill.
If the University of Michigan alum isn’t available Wednesday, Columbus could be left with just a pair of healthy forwards in Andrés Mendoza (pictured above) and Jeff Cunningham.
Mendoza followed a two-goal performance vs. Chivas on May 28 with a two-flub effort vs. the Red Bulls when the Crew needed the equalizer in the second half.
The first was a mis-hit from well inside the box with his unnatural right foot that wasn’t even close to the right post in the 65th minute. Mendoza later was unmarked 10 yards in front of the goal but somehow managed to put a header 10 yards left of the target.
Warzycha did not want to criticize his Designated Player.
“I think we have to look at the positive," the coach said. "He’s in the right place at the right time. Obviously finishing is another thing, but at least he’s getting chances.”
It took rookie defensive midfielder Rich Balchan’s redirect off a pass from Meram for his first career shot to tie the match in the third minute of stoppage time.
Giving it his best shot
Mendoza’s close-range misfires in New York were in contrast to the looping 40-plus yard strike by Eddie Gaven in the 58th minute. RBNY goalkeeper Greg Sutton was out from the goal and had to race back and tip the shot over the crossbar although for some reason the Red Bulls were given a goal kick.
“I saw him off his line so I figured I’d hit it,” Gaven said. “I know he’s like 6-foot-5, so the odds weren’t great but I’d try it anyway. It almost went. Sometimes you have to hit that shot to try and keep them honest.”
Crew defender Julius James battled New York forward Thierry Henry for 90 minutes but showed there were no hard feelings afterward when he asked for the jersey of the Red Bulls star player.
“He said, ‘Mendoza already asked me,’” James said with a laugh. “So I was like, ‘Well, could I get a hug?’ Him being the classy gentleman he is, he gave me a hug.”