OBETZ, Ohio – From their MLS Cup triumph in 2008 to the end of last season, Brian Carroll played in all but six of the Columbus Crew’s 90 regular-season matches at defensive midfielder. Carroll’s offseason trade to Columbus’ Saturday opponents, the Philadelphia Union (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), has left the Crew scrambling to fill the position.
Their search may be over. After left knee surgery last November that had limited him to just 21 minutes this season, Danny O’Rourke went the full 90 in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with the Houston Dynamo, and looks likely to make a second straight start on Saturday.
“[Wednesday] was definitely the right time to come back,” O’Rourke said. “It felt right. We had been doing the right treatment, the right training. I was fortunate to be out there and help the guys battle for a point.”
Against the Dynamo, O’Rourke became the sixth player to play defensive midfielder for the Crew in 2011. Kevin Burns, Emmanuel Ekpo, Dejan Rusmir, and rookes Eric Gehrig and Rich Balchan had previous filled the role.
“We have six guys playing that position, so it obviously means we’re searching for the one,” head Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “We need some consistency.”
O’Rourke could provide that consistency, but his versatility might also allow Warzycha to play him alongside Julius James as a central defender. Captain Chad Marshall’s injured hip has ruled him out for the game, and while Gehrig partnered ably with James in the second half of the match against Houston, O'Rourke has far more experience in the spot..
Either way, though, Warzycha's not worried.
“Whether you put Gehrig there and Danny in front of him you can switch at anytime,” Warzycha said. “They both play the same position. Eric has played before as a defensive midfielder so I don’t think it’s going to be anything new for him.”
Warzycha certainly has options, but O’Rourke has his own idea of what he’d like.
“I like playing center mid,” he said. “You can tackle guys that run around a lot. I’m glad I was able to come back at that position.”
Playing with heart
The Crew are on a 0-2-1 skid, and their 12 goals allowed during that stretch tied a team record for the most during a three-game span.
But defender Sebastian Miranda, who had questioned the team’s character in 6-2 and 4-2 losses to Seattle Sounders FC and Toronto FC, liked the way the Crew battled Houston even after losing midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo to a red card in the 11th minute.
“We played with heart and we were smart,” Miranda said. “This is the way to play for the playoffs.”