OBETZ, Ohio – Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha, age 48 and a former midfielder with the Crew, stepped into some scrimmaging on Wednesday. His competitive playing days behind him though, he will have to look elsewhere for players when the shorthanded Crew travel to Portland on Saturday (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
With the news this week that Aaron Schoenfeld (plantar fascia rupture) and Olman Vargas (hamstring contusion) will miss at least several matches, the Crew are now down four forwards, including Tommy Heinemann (season-ending knee surgery) and recent Homegrown signing Ben Speas (sports hernia).
Emilio Rentería, who has started five of seven games but has not scored, is a logical choice for one of the starting spots.
After that, Warzycha can turn to second-year player Justin Meram – who has yet to appear in a game in 2012 – or move a midfielder further forward.
“We don’t know yet,” midfielder Milovan Mirosevic told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. “We will practice tomorrow then the coach will make changes. It’s a great loss for sure to lose two forwards in the same game. We’re in a bad moment but we’ll see. We have Emilio and somebody else who will be with him.”
That somebody could be him, although that would mean making changes at two positions instead of keeping him in the center of the park to coordinate the attack.
More likely, it will be Meram or rookie Ethan Finlay who teams up with Renteria
“I’ve been ready,” Meram said.
He played in 17 matches with four starts his first season but was hampered by an ankle injury that cost him the final few weeks of this year’s preseason.
“I didn’t think my second season would go this way but that’s just the way pro sports is,” Meram said. “I have to keep working. They put people on the field they feel can do the job. Hopefully they feel I can do the job now.”
Finlay played some forward at Creighton but had been used exclusively as a wide midfielder until the last match, when he replaced Schoenfeld.
“We have four or five guys they’re looking at,” Finlay said. “If I’m one of them that gets the start I’ll be more than ready. If not, there’s still a good opportunity for other guys to get some minutes with the depleted force that we have.”
Other options at forward include flank midfielders Bernardo Añor or Eddie Gaven. There’s also the chance that Renteria could go alone with Mirosevic dropping in behind him. However, that formation found little success in the season-opening 2-0 loss at Colorado.
If there is an upside to the situation, it’s that Warzycha will have versatile players who can adapt to any in-game revisions.
“You have to go into the game with a mindset what you want to do and if that doesn’t work then change,” he said. “There’s no other way to find out.”