The Columbus Crew have two openings on the roster and three players not under contract, but don’t expect coach Robert Warzycha to turn Saturday’s match in the Carolina Challenge Cup into auditions.
“We have to try to put the best team on the field for [Saturday’s] game, to be honest with you,” he said to MLSsoccer.com Friday. “It’s the final test. We need to not only perform well, we need to win.”
There are several reasons for the urgency: The game against D.C. United is the last of a tournament in Charleston, S.C., that has seen the Crew tie the host Battery (USL Pro) 2-2 and lose 1-0 to Chicago.
“We really want to go out with a win and build some momentum for the season,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said.
The match also marks the end of the preseason. The next time the Crew take the field, at Colorado on March 10, real points will be at stake. With that in mind, Warzycha is trying to lock down a starting XI.
“We want the team [Saturday] that will be close to what we have in Colorado,” he said. “Obviously, it depends on how well it works tomorrow.”
He’s not guaranteeing evaluations of 2012 MLS SuperDraft pick midfielder Kevan George, Montenegrin defender Nemanja Vukovic or MLS veteran midfielder Stephane Auvray of Guadeloupe.
“I want to make sure we play the guys who are going to play next Saturday,” Warzycha said.
Vukovic has the best chance of acquiring a contract because left back is still unsettled. The battle is between incumbent Shaun Francis and former New York Red Bull Carlos Mendes, with Vukovic viewed as a backup if he were to procure a contract.
“We’ll have to see how it goes at left back,” Warzycha said.
Even so, Crew technical director Brian Bliss said it’s not given that the team will utilize the maximum 30 roster spots.
“Maybe one of those [trialists], two of those guys, end up getting signed, but we still continue to look for the Designated Player that could potentially come in the summer, so we’ve got some room there,” he said.
The Crew had offers to three potential DPs rebuffed but will revisit the idea of signing one later in the season.
In the meantime, the team have started formal talks with Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica about signing striker Jairo Arrieta before the April 15 transfer window closes.
It’s possible the Crew will leave a vacancy until the outcome of negotiations is known.
Offseason signing Olman Vargas is still working to get in shape after an injury prevented the Costa Rican forward from training prior to coming to Columbus.
“He is getting fit, getting up to the speed of play,” Warzycha said. “He is getting better. He is not there yet.”
Another newcomer, Milovan Mirosevic, will either play beneath forward Emilio Rentería or in the center midfield on Saturday. Dilly Duka, just back from US Under-23 camp, will start at left midfield.