Tyson Wahl in pole position as Columbus Crew SC mull replacement for influential defender Gaston Sauro

OBETZ, Ohio—After stepping in to shore up a leaky Columbus Crew SC defense late in the season, Gaston Sauro is suspended due to yellow-card accumulation for the first leg of the club’s Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Championship clash against the New York Red Bulls on November 22 (5 pm ET; ESPN, MLS LIVE).

With 10 days to decide on a starter, head coach Gregg Berhalter isn’t tipping his hand, deciding between Tyson Wahl, Emmanuel Pogatetz and Sergio Campbell.

“We have a couple candidates,” Berhalter said. “We have Emmanuel and we have Tyson and we have Sergio Campbell. Sergio will probably be less likely to feature, but I’d say the other two are possibilities.”

Wahl is the likely choice, after playing more than 1,400 minutes this season. Pogatetz hasn’t played since in July.

Wahl, an 11-year MLS veteran, says he’s using the opportunity to put in a sharpened week of practice.

“For the most part, it’s business as usual,” he said. “We have this weekend off, so this week we’re able to train a little harder. I’m definitely going to take advantage of that and make sure that I’m definitely fit and prepared and ready to play, if called upon.”

Pogatetz has declined media requests since the summer, and has said that he will begin speaking when he plays again.

While Berhalter is keeping his selection a secret, Crew SC captain and back-line mainstay Michael Parkhurst says playing with Wahl would require little adjustment.

“It would be difficult if it was someone I hadn’t played with before or only had a game or two,” Parkhurst said. “But Tyson and I have played a bunch of games together and we’ve had a lot of experience in this league. He’s a good pro and a good veteran, and I think everyone feels comfortable with him stepping in and playing in a big game.”

That familiarity – along with a potentially renewed partnership with left back Waylon Francis – has lifted Wahl’s confidence.

“Michael and I have played a lot of games together now, so I feel like we have some chemistry, and the same with playing with Waylon,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable with them, I know their tendencies. So it should be pretty seamless, and I’m prepared.”

Parkhurst says his game won’t change at all next to a different partner, and believes Wahl is capable of doing everything the team asks out of its center backs.

The only change Berhalter envisions is a shift from the right-footed Sauro.

“We have a left-footer,” he said. “So I think that could be helpful.”

Wahl has started 127 regular-season matches and four playoff matches in his MLS career. And he’s not intimidated by the moment.

“It is a big game, but I’ve played in big games before in my career,” he said. “It’s healthy to be excited and have some nerves, because everyone knows the importance of the game. It allows you to be more motivated and care more. But I’m definitely confident, if called upon.”