OBETZ, Ohio – Chris Birchall had been in Columbus less than 48 hours after an transatlantic flight, but he already felt at home when he awoke Tuesday for his first training session with his new club.
The Stafford, England, native was greeted by familiar rain and gray skies that only began to show a peek of sun by midday.
“When I landed on Sunday, and especially Monday, it was humid and hot and I was thinking, 'I’ve got to get used to this again,' because there was a training session here last year when we played Columbus with the Galaxy and it was boiling,” the former LA midfielder told MLSsoccer.com. “Today, I woke up and it was nice for me, but it seems to fluctuate from sunny one minute and rainy the next.”
Birchall shook off the jet lag and went through a full workout, a day after the club announced the signing of the 28-year-old Trinidad and Tobago international.
As much as Crew head coach Robert Warzycha would like to insert him immediately into the injury-ravaged lineup on Saturday against FC Dallas, Birchall has not played a competitive match since helping the Galaxy win the MLS Cup in November.
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“We’ll see how he is tomorrow and Thursday,” Warzycha said. “He’s tired from the time change and he’s not game fit. We’re going to have to make a decision later on.”
Birchall said he can play Saturday if asked but that being at full strength will take time.
“I don’t think I would be doing myself justice and the team,” Birchall said. “Fitness is a major part of my game and if it’s not there I get frustrated. I don’t think [Warzycha] will be rushing me. I probably need two or three weeks of training every day.”
However, his routine will be temporarily interrupted when he returns to England to marry his longtime girlfriend, Lucy Mulroy, on June 9. They couple also have a 3-year-old son, Ashley.
Fortunately for Birchall, after Columbus play Chicago on May 26, they are idle until June 16. So his wedding plans slot in perfectly.
By the time he returns, the former Port Vale star is expected to compete for the Crew's defensive midfield spot, although he can also play out on the right flank.
“He helps the team on both sides of the game,” Warzycha said. “When you have to score a goal or defend a good result, he’s probably the guy you want on the field.”
Defender Julius James said Birchall will also be good for the locker room. He would know, as they're roommates with the T&T national team.
“It’s great that we know each other and are friends," said James, "but it’s even better for the team that he’s a good leader, a hard worker."
James promises to show Birchall around the city and help his family relocate when they arrive sometime in July.
So far, Birchall likes what he’s seen of the "Discovery City" and feels right at home.
“There are great neighborhoods; lots of greenery," he said. "It’s not dissimilar to England.”