OBETZ, Ohio – With so much attention justifiably focused on the contributions of the younger players during the Columbus Crew's injury crisis, a pair of veteran players has been overlooked.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
If people aren’t talking about right back Sebastián Miranda, 31, and 28-year-old left back Nemanja Vukovic then they must be doing something right. How about the Crew allowing two goals in the past four matches despite an ad hoc lineup?
“They both bring an element of experience to this team we really need,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said.
The Crew (4-4-3) have fashioned a 2-0-2 stretch, including their first-ever win in Seattle on Wednesday, and they will host Chicago on Saturday (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online) with the starting XI once again in flux.
WATCH: Columbus vs. Chicago preview
Midfielder Danny O’Rourke (ankle) was injured Wednesday and will not play. Neither will midfielder Milovan Mirosevic, who suffered a strained adductor last Saturday in San Jose. Also, captain and center back Chad Marshall will miss his fifth straight game due to a concussion.
And given the wear and tear of the West Coast trip and the quick turnaround for Saturday's match against the Fire, it might be time to rest a player or two and Vukovic might be one of the candidates.
“My legs are fine,” said Vukovic, who was signed at the start of the season. “I have a little problem with my back but I’m ready for 90 minutes if the coach says so."
Shaun Francis did not play against Seattle and could take Vukovic’s spot. Manager Robert Warzycha is also concerned about Miranda, who like Vukovic, would face the prospect of going 90 minutes for the third time in eight days against Chicago.
“They both seem OK, but we have to think twice,” Warzycha told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “There may be changes we can do because we have fresh legs on the bench.”
Fresher, yes, but other than Carlos Mendes, who played the entire match Wednesday in his first game of the season, no other healthy defender has the experience of Miranda and Vukovic.
“Seba’s a veteran guy, seen a lot and been in different situations,” Gruenebaum said. “[Vukovic] is still learning his way with the team. He’s amazing. He brings a lot of calmness on the ball.”
Columbus could use their steadying influence in the back. Second-year midfielder Cole Grossman made his first start vs. Seattle and rookie midfielder Kevan George made his MLS debut, replacing the injured O’Rourke midway through Wednesday’s match.
At times recently 60 to 70 percent of the field players have spent three or fewer years in the league and yet the Crew are on a roll.
“I don’t know if this is the youngest team in the league,” Miranda said. “Maybe in the beginning [of the season] we weren’t very good, but we’ve played four games without a loss. The young players have to be prepared because at any moment the team needs them,” he added. “If they take the opportunity, it’s good for the team.”