OBETZ, Ohio – The Columbus Crew won't be at full strength the rest of the way, as season-ending knee injuries to Eddie Gaven and Gláuber have depleted the starting lineup, but with each passing week they get closer to moving on.
Forward Jairo Arrieta will rejoin the club for Saturday's match vs. Chicago (8 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) after spending two-and-a-half weeks with Costa Rica for their World Cup qualifiers. In addition, midfielder Agustín Viana is bidding to return from a hamstring strain, although he is still questionable for the match.
Yet, despite a series of maladies to the first-team players, the Crew improved to 5-5-5 with a win over Eastern Conference leaders Montreal last week.
Viana, who has not played in an MLS match since April 27, said depth is helping Columbus stay in the playoff chase.
"Eleven [players] can win games but a team wins championships," the Uruguayan said. "We need all the players so we can qualify for the playoffs."
Viana had a setback in his recovery about a month ago when he slipped going around a cone during a drill, but played 31 minutes in a Reserve League match Sunday.
"It was my first time back. I was a little afraid," he said. "It was important to take that fear away."
Crew coach Robert Warzycha said it is unlikely Viana, a starter the first eight games before the injury, will be ready Saturday but that a determination will be made later in the week.
It's easy to see why Viana is anxious to be on the field. With defenders Chad Marshall and Josh Williams and defensive midfielder Danny O'Rourke returning from injuries against Montreal, Columbus' 2-0 win was their most impressive of the year and might have marked a turning point.
In the first eight games with a full complement of defensive-minded players, including Viana in the middle with O'Rourke, the Crew were 3-2-3 with seven goals allowed and two shutouts.
In the next six games, with much of the backline and midfield sidelined at various points Columbus went 1-3-2, yielding nine goals and earning just one clean sheet.
"At the start of the year, we had a really good understanding of what each other could do and where you expect people to be in certain situations," Marshall said. "You hope it won't take that much time to get back to that."