OBETZ, Ohio – The Columbus Crew only made one roster addition during the summer, bringing Austrian international Emanuel Pogatetz to the club to replace defender Giancarlo Gonzalez, who departed for Italian club Palermo in August.
But Crew fans may have to wait a while longer before seeing Pogatetz on the field, partially because of a quality string of games from the club’s current center back duo of Michael Parkhurst and Tyson Wahl and partially because of Pogatetz’s fitness.
The Austrian hasn’t played a competitive match since June, and had work to do in training with the Crew.
“I thought he would be a little behind because he hadn’t played in two months, but I also expected it to take a while to get used to this type of football,” head coach Gregg Berhalter told reporters Tuesday. “Everything is on line. He’s right on track to where I thought he would be.”
But that doesn’t mean Berhalter will be rushing Pogatetz into the lineup.
“Tyson, Michael, they’ve been doing a great job,” he said. “That makes the decision even more difficult.”
How is Berhalter weighing the decision on whether to replace one of his current backs with Pogatetz? He’s not.
“That’s not in our thought process right now,” he said. “Our thought process is that Tyson and Michael are doing a great job, that’s one side of it. The other side is that we have to get Emanuel fit. I think they’re two almost unrelated things.”
Complicating the matter further is Pogatetz’s position. He’s not a winger or a forward, who can come in as an impact sub. He’s a defender, who Berhalter prefers to keep in for an entire match.
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“With a forward there’s a little more room for error, but with the center backs there’s no room for error,” Berhalter said. “So we, and him, need to be 100 percent sure that he’s ready, and it’s a process that we’re working through now.”
Berhalter said he “hopes” Pogatetz can be ready by the end of the season, but isn’t concerned about the new signing getting frustrated either way.
“Emanuel is a team player,” Berhalter said. “He knows what this is about, he knows what we’re fighting for and he wants to compete. So you make that decision at the time.”