Columbus' depth on display in USOC
For have such a deep, talented team, the Crew are getting exactly what they wanted out of the US Open Cup.
Players who could be starting for other teams and rookies trying to get a sniff of the field have combined in this year's tournament, and have helped put Columbus in the semifinals for the first time since they won it all in 2002.
On Tuesday night, Emilio Renteria converted a penalty, while and Steven Lenhart and Eddie Gaven salted the match as the Crew defeated Charleston 3-0 at Crew Stadium.
The 14 players Columbus used in the match had a combined 55 starts in MLS play this season. So when coach Robert Warzycha basically threw the “second” team at the Battery, there wasn’t much drop-off from the squad that leads the Eastern Conference with an 8-2-3 record.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t mind going to a MLS team with a lineup like this,” Warzycha said after the game. “We have good players on the field with a lot of experience.”
Warzycha made 10 changes from the first XI that beat Chicago on Saturday, the only holdover being two-time reigning MLS Defender of the Year Chad Marshall. Gaven didn’t even start, but scored 17 minutes after entering when he took an exquisite pass from Emmanuel Ekpo and powered a shot from the top of the penalty area.
The Crew coach was also able to start rookie left back Shaun Francis and first-year midfielder Dilly Duka for the second straight Open Cup match, even though neither has played a minute in MLS yet. Francis was particularly effective with some bursts of speed that left the Battery in his wake.
“He’s not a surprise,” Warzycha said of the fourth-round pick. “We knew that he’s a good player. We thought he would fit pretty well in our team and our system and he surprised us even more.”
The Crew were up 2-0 when Leandre Griffit, signed May 13, finally made his debut. The French midfielder showed flair and an attacking attitude in his 14 minutes.
“The touches that he had, especially the stepover in the box, [were] pretty cool,” Warzycha said.
With a busy schedule that includes a match Saturday at Houston and home games next week vs. Kansas City and second-place New York, it was vital the Crew get quality minutes against a side that has gone 5-4 against MLS teams in the past nine meetings and knocked off the Chicago Fire last week.
“We knew they were good,” midfielder Duncan Oughton said. “A couple of years ago, they made the final, so they’re not a team that takes the Open Cup lightly. We did what he had to then we got a couple of goal lead and they got a bit tired around the 50th, 60th minute."
Oughton, the longest-tenured Crew after joining the club in 2001, has played only 24 minutes in two MLS games this season, but was a force against the Battery. His cross to Lenhart resulted in a foul and the penalty kick by Renteria. Oughton also put a perfect ball to a sliding Lenhart for the second goal while playing the whole match.
“[Oughton] is going to battle 90 minutes,” Warzycha said. “He had a good game. He helped the team win the game.”