Columbus Crew SC's Gregg Berhalter hopes squad rotation alleviates effect of multi-game weeks

Multi-game weeks are tough on any team. But they really took their toll on Columbus Crew SC last year.

Columbus had four multi-game weeks last season, and of the 10 matches involved, they posted a dismal 1-6-3 record.

After a particularly tough loss, 1-0 at home to the Vancouver Whitecaps on May 10, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter was frustrated with himself and said his players were “running on fumes.”

He blamed his own lineup choices for the loss.

"If I'm critical of anything, it might be my team selection, of not rotating more guys and getting some fresh legs in there," he said at the time. "To me, that was clearly the difference. [The Whitecaps] were just more physical and were able to run more."

He said he trusted his players who told him they were fit, and that he wouldn’t make that mistake again.

And Wednesday night’s 2-2 draw to that same Vancouver team marked a new approach for Berhalter in his second season as an MLS head coach.

Rather than using his preferred lineup in the first of two away matches in a week, both played on turf, he left defenders Hernan Grana and Emmanuel Pogatetz – both healthy – back in Columbus to preserve them for Saturday’s trip to play the New England Revolution (3 pm ET, MLS LIVE). Berhalter was also without suspended Federico Higuain, who will be fully rested, and took the precaution of keeping slightly injured fullback Waylon Francis at home as well.

“Obviously, we took Saturday’s game into consideration,” Berhalter said of his decision-making process going into Wednesday’s match. “They’re both important games, and we wanted to minimize the impact on the squad. By doing that, we left three guys back – Federico was suspended – and it gave other guys a chance to play. We talk about our depth, and we wanted to give these guys a chance to play.”

The gamble paid off with a hard-fought point, and Berhalter said his team’s depth made the decision easier.

“As you know the guys better, you’re comfortable with the roster and where guys are at physically and mentally,” he said. “That’s how we make the decisions. Some guys have been working hard and haven’t gotten any game time. It was time to give them some game time.”

Still, Columbus will have a number of key players who will have to cope with the midweek game come Saturday. Kei Kamara, Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay, Tony Tchani and Michael Parkhurst all played 90 minutes against Vancouver before a 2,500-mile flight to Boston and two days of rest before another turf match at Gillette Stadium.

“It’s going to have an effect, no question,” Berhalter said. “But that’s life; that’s the schedule, and we’ll deal with it. We like challenges, and hopefully we’ll rise to this one.”