Eddie Gaven and his Crew teammates hope to emulate their post-break success of 2009.

Crew enjoy rare extended break

Eddie Gaven swam the Atlantic Ocean off the beaches of his native New Jersey while Steven Lenhart surfed the Pacific near his home in California.

Guillermo Barros Schelotto found the sand of Miami's beaches alluring after doing a clinic there but Brian Carroll remained inland and visited the Grand Canyon. As Gino Padula stayed in Columbus with his family, Emmanuel Ekpo decided the Crew's week-long vacation was the perfect time to cut his long braids in favor of a bald head.

"I didn't know it was him when I first saw him to be honest," said Gaven following the team's training session on Monday, its first gathering since a 1-0 loss at New York on Aug. 30 that ended a five-game losing streak.

Coach Robert Warzycha gave the team an extended break knowing there will little time to breathe between now and Oct. 3 because of a congested schedule. Beginning with Sunday's home game against Houston, the Crew will play seven games (four MLS and three CONCACAF Champions League) in 21 days, including six in the first 17 days.

"It's going to be very hard, a really grueling time for us but we have a very deep team," Gaven said. "I think we've shown that this year so we're going to need every guy to do his part. It's going to be fun. Playing so many games means we don't have to train as much. That's kind of good."

The Crew have two things going for them heading into the difficult stretch. First, only two of the seven matches are on the road (Sept. 16 vs. Saprissa of Costa Rica and four days later in Chicago) and the team so far is at full strength. All 23 players should be available come Sunday after Alejandro Moreno (Venezuela), Chad Marshall and Robbie Rogers (U.S.) return from midweek World Cup qualifiers.

"It's awesome that we've got our full team," Jed Zayner said. "Everybody's back in action. We're ready for a run to the Cup. It's huge. You saw last year we had about 13 wins after our week off. It's good for our minds. Everybody's excited to be back.'

The Crew hope to emulate their post-break success of last season. The team had the first week in August off after a loss and responded by going 11-1-3 the rest of the way, including a victory against New York in the MLS Cup Final.

It was an opportune time to take a break this year, as well. Prior to losing to the last-place Red Bulls the Crew were humbled 5-0 at Cruz Azul of Mexico in a Champions League match.

"We're going to throw those games in the trash can and move on," Gaven said. "We didn't play our best. We can play so much better. It's a long season. It's nice to be able to take a week where guys can rest their bodies. It's also just as important to rest their minds as well. I think it is going to help us."

Despite playing only one MLS match since Aug. 15, the Crew remain first in the Eastern Conference by a point ahead of Chicago with a game in hand. Columbus trails Houston by a point in the Supporters' Shield race in two fewer matches.

"It's good for the guys to have a little bit of a break and come back nice and ready to go for the final push here," Gaven said.

Warzycha feels the sabbatical has allowed Guillermo Barros Schelotto to further recover from a hamstring injury. The forward made three appearances before the break after missing a month with a strained hamstring but did not look sharp.

"He wasn't 100 percent," Warzycha said. "I'm sure he's going to be fine, ready to play."

The Crew will find out Sunday if the time off was a help or hindrance to their title hopes in two competitions.

"I hope we made the right decision to give everybody a few days off," Warzycha said. "Is it going to pay off? We're going to see."

Craig Merz is a contributor to MLSnet.com

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