Gregg Berhalter - Columbus Crew SC - May 21, 2016

OBETZ, Ohio – When Columbus Crew SC hosts Real Salt Lake this Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE), the home team will be stretched nearly as thin as possible.


A series of events have left the team with only two center backs and two true strikers on their roster, and the team announced on Monday that right back Harrison Afful and winger Cedrick Mabwati would be gone for two games on international duty.


But perhaps the biggest blow of the bunch is the loss of defender Gaston Sauro, who tore his posterior cruciate ligament Saturday against Colorado and will miss at least four months in recovery.


At Crew SC training on Tuesday, head coach Gregg Berhalter admitted Sauro will be missed.


“There’s a physical presence [missing],” he said. “He’s very good at defending when forwards have their backs to goal. He’s very good at winning the ball when we’re attacking. So we’ll miss that size and aggressiveness and proactive defending.”


Sauro has played just 16 MLS matches [including playoffs] since joining Columbus last August.


Seven minutes into his MLS debut last year, he collided with teammate Wil Trapp and missed the next three weeks. Eventually, he worked his way into a rhythm with fellow center back Michael Parkhurst as the defensive anchors of the team’s MLS Cup final run.


But with Sauro out for an extended period again, Berhalter says he has no concerns about Sauro finding the field.


“These are two freak injuries, two strange, strange injuries,” Berhalter said. “We feel terrible for Gaston, because he wants to be on the field helping his club. His spirits are down right now, and we’re with him because it’s always tough, as a player, to deal with something like that.”


In the meantime, Crew SC have a likely replacement in veteran Tyson Wahl, who has been a reliable starter when called upon. But after Wahl, rookie midfielder Rodrigo Saravia and fullback Chad Barson are the only other options to play center back.


Columbus brought academy product and Maryland junior Alex Crognale into camp this week, but Berhalter said the tall center back isn’t in the team’s immediate plans, and had been scheduled to join them for months.


“We want him to finish school,” Berhalter said. “He’s put in a good three years of university. He’s scheduled to get his degree in December, and we’d love him to get a degree.”


Berhalter will likely be active in the summer transfer window to bring in a replacement for departed striker Kei Kamara, who went to New England in a recent trade, and he declined to say whether center back is now on his shopping list as well.


“We’re going to evaluate,” he said. “What we have is the flexibility to add a position we need, whether it’s in defense, in the midfield or at forward.”