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Crew Notes: Ekpo misses out on first cap with Nigeria

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Fatigue showed on his face and disappointment could be detected in his voice as Columbus Crew midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo on Thursday discussed his quick trip overseas that ended without a match.

Ekpo, a silver medalist for Nigeria’s 2008 Beijing Olympics team, was called to the senior squad for the first time and hoped to debut on Tuesday against rivals Ghana in Watford, England. The friendly, however, was postponed due to the civil unrest that swept the country.

The match was called off about four hours before kickoff but has been tentatively rescheduled for Oct. 11, also at the Vicarage Road stadium in Watford.

While Ekpo did not see any rioting while he was there and the closest disturbances were five miles away, local officials could not ensure the safety of the fans or participants.

“It’s disappointing,” he said after returning for Thursday’s practice with the Crew. “I was all prepared to play. It would have been a good game for me. It would have been my first [senior] cap.”

Ekpo hopes he will get summoned for the Super Eagles’ next match.

“I have to keep my fingers crossed,” he said.

The Crew don’t play the weekend prior to the planned match and the team’s next game afterward is on Oct. 15 away to the New England Revolution.

Ekpo wasn’t the only one on the team whose international plans went awry. Trinidad and Tobago defender Julius James was selected to play Wednesday against Haiti but the match was canceled last week because of lack of funding from his federation.

Although having Ekpo and James miss out on midweek games in advance of Saturday’s home game against New England benefits the Crew from a fitness standpoint, coach Robert Warzycha was not pleased.

“I like them to go and play,” he said. “It’s good for our club and good for those guys. That’s a reward for them.”

Holes to fill

Despite hopes earlier in the week that they would be ready, Warzycha said Thursday that midfielders Rich Balchan and Dilly Duka would not play Saturday.

Midfielder Danny O’Rourke and forward Emilio Rentería could be available for limited minutes, but forward Jeff Cunningham is still questionable because of a troublesome right knee. Midfielder Robbie Rogers hurt his ankle shortly after scoring the tying goal Wednesday in the US’ 1-1 draw against Mexico in Philadelphia and his status will be determined Friday.

“I expect him to be on the field [Saturday],” Warzycha said.

Midfielder Eddie Gaven won’t be after bruising the outside of his right ankle against Colorado last week. He said he is targeting the August 20 match against Philadelphia for his return.

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