Columbus Crew rookie Eric Gehrig
Courtesy of Columbus Crew

Crew rookie Gehrig eagerly awaiting first career start

OBETZ, Ohio — In a world where Eric Gehrig’s thoughts are instantly sent to his Twitter followers, patience would seem to be a foreign concept.

But the Crew rookie defender/midfielder has learned that trait as he strives for his first MLS appearance.

“I’ve been patient with everything and working really hard in practice the past few months,” he said. “The good thing about me is my attitude. I don’t get down about things. Whether I dress, play or not, I come out here to practice and try to make the team better.”

The 23-year-old is getting closer to his dream of playing in MLS after having made the Crew’s 18-man game roster the past two matches.

“He’s made some strides,” coach Robert Warzycha said. “He didn’t get on the field the last two games, but he played well enough in practice to be on the bench.”

Gehrig and other first-year players who haven’t played are encouraged by Warzycha’s willingness to use inexperienced players in critical spots.

Rookie Rich Balchan leads the way with starts in 14 of 15 games, and Home Grown player Aaron Horton recently made his debut against Real Salt Lake. In addition, Bernardo Anor got his first start last week vs. Houston and earned MLS Player of the Week honors.

Also, Justin Meram, a first-round pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, has become an important cog off the bench even though the former Michigan forward didn’t see the field until the Crew’s 11th game.

“It’s about not being frustrated,” Meram said. “It’s tough. The last place you played [Michigan], you’re the captain, you’re scoring goals, then you come [to MLS] and you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. You have to work your way up and when the time comes make sure you’re ready.”

Gehrig is paying his dues. After his senior season at Loyola University – Chicago, he was invited to the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) camp in January 2010. He stuck for a few weeks before being released.

He immediately returned to school and got a business degree in June of that year, but decided to give pro soccer another try and trained for the next six months. He had an offer in January to try out with the Crew, but already familiar with Kansas City’s coaching staff, he opted to return there instead.

However, the Crew, after seeing him at several combines the past two years, used a discovery selection on him.

“It was kind of crazy how it all worked out,” Gehrig said. “It’s been an unbelievable four months. I couldn’t be happier.”

His ability to play in the back or as a defensive midfielder attracted the Crew.

“He’s dynamic,” Warzycha said. “He can play center back or in the middle. I wish we had some more reserve games the last few weeks so he can play some more.”

Meram has no doubts his roommate will be ready if Warzycha calls his name.

“[Gehrig has] been working real hard,” Meram said. “He’s going to get his shot. I’m sure he’s going to take it and go with it.”

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