Crew defender Eric Gehrig
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Gehrig the last man standing for ravaged Crew defense

OBETZ, Ohio – That Chad Marshall and Josh Williams missed Tuesday’s practice because of a virus creeping through the team was apropos.

Both center backs – Marshall is the starter and Williams usually lines up there for reserve matches – play a position that has collectively been a nightmare this season because of injuries.

“It’s unbelievable that we have so many injuries at that one position,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “We’d probably be much better if we had everybody healthy. We’d be going game-to-game with guys that really have some experience but unfortunately for us we have injuries.”

“Unfortunate” is selling it short. The list of Crew backline maladies is stunning.

Julius James, Marshall’s partner last season, has not played after undergoing right shoulder surgery in November. His comeback was stalled 10 days ago when he suffered a collapsed lung and was hospitalized for four days.

He received clearance Tuesday to resume training and spent some time on a stationary bike.

Carlos Mendes was acquired from New York in December and penciled in as Marshall’s partner until James’ scheduled return in late April. But he strained his right hamstring prior to the season opener on March 10 and has not appeared in a match. He did go 45 minutes in a reserve game on Saturday.

“I feel good,” he said Tuesday. “I’m just trying to get the fitness back, obviously, being out five weeks.

“It’s a long season and hopefully we’ll get the team fit and be ready for the majority of the games.”

Two other options, midfielder/defender Rich Balchan and veteran Danny O’Rourke, might also have been the choice in the middle. But Balchan is on a seemingly endless recovery from sports hernia surgery in November, and O’Rourke – after starting the first two games alongside Marshall – has missed the past three because of a left ankle sprain and was twice pulled on game day.

“It’s not easy for the guys in the back because every game is somebody different and trying to find the best fit,” Warzycha said. “Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It worked against Toronto [in a 1-0 win]. It didn’t against New York [in a 4-1 loss]. What can we do?”

The last man standing through all the maladies is second-year midfielder Eric Gehrig, who is playing an unaccustomed position.

He likely was looking for a piece of wood to knock on when discussing his injury-free season so far.

“I take pride day in and day out whether I have a knock or not in going out there and playing,” he said. “I’ve been lucky throughout my career in being pretty healthy but it’s out of your control sometimes.”

But like all nightmares, this one is due to end – eventually. For Warzycha, even that is probably not soon enough.

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