One of coach Robert Warzycha’s pet words is “absolutely,” so it was no surprise how he answered when asked if the Crew might take the worst team in MLS lightly on Wednesday in Vancouver (10 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
“Absolutely not,” the Columbus coach said. “They’re playing at home. Look at Salt Lake against New England.”
He referenced Monday’s 3-3 tie in Sandy, Utah, when New England — whose 16 points are second from the bottom, only better than the Whitecaps’ 14 — pulled points from one of the top clubs.
Despite a 2-8-8 record, the expansion Whitecaps are 2-1-5 at home and have outscored visitors 12-10.
Meanwhile, the Crew (6-5-6, 24 points) are coming off a 2-0 loss Saturday at FC Dallas that dropped them to 1-4-3 on the road. They have been outscored 11-5 and been blanked in half of their away matches.
“We need to start putting together some good performances on the road in order to be competitive in this league,” midfielder/defender Danny O’Rourke said. “We have to learn how to do that by, hopefully, come playoff time because that’s where we’re going to have to do it if we want to win a championship.”
That’s why Warzycha has found the post-FCD practices to be focused.
“This is not a game we will take lightly, especially with all the injuries and suspensions,” he said.
Forward Emilio Rentería (left hamstring strain), midfielder Dilly Duka (right ankle sprain) and defender Shaun Francis (left hamstring strain) have been out so long they are not even mentioned when Warzycha discusses match lineups.
The Crew lost three more players after Saturday’s match because holding midfielder Rich Balchan suffered a groin strain, center back Andy Iro received a red card, and central midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo’s yellow to earn a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
Warzycha has to decide whether to shuffle players from their normal spots or simply drop someone into those vacated positions.
His decision at center back should be easy after he pronounced Julius James “100 percent” ready. James started the first 15 games before missing the past two with an adductor strain.
O’Rourke, Dejan Rusmir or Kevin Burns could start for Balchan. Rusmir seems like the safe bet because O’Rourke is working back to 90-minute strength following offseason left knee surgery and Burns was left off the travel team to Frisco, Texas, but was called to Vancouver following the match along with defenders Korey Veeder and Eric Gehrig.
O’Rourke went 68 minutes in his first appearance of the season in last week’s Lamar Hunt US Open Cup and another 21 on Saturday.
“We don’t want to go into the game knowing we may have to sub somebody,” Warzycha said of O’Rourke.
The simple move in the middle would be to start Burns. If Warzycha wants to disrupt things, he could move one of the flank players — either Bernardo Anor or Eddie Gaven — in there and return winger Robbie Rogers to the starting lineup after his stay with the US team.
“We can move some players around or also we can put in the players we groomed for the starting position,” Warzycha said.