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Commitment to depth pays off for Crew in opening win

The Crew prides itself on having a deep bench.

It started with coach Sigi Schmid when he rebuilt the franchise into the 2008 MLS Cup winner. And it continued last season when Schmid’s successor, Robert Warzycha, created interchangeable parts without a noticeable drop in performance.

So good has the Crew been that when standout forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto has been out of the lineup the team was still tough to beat—until running into Real Salt Lake in the playoffs.

The Crew took to its home pitch Saturday against Toronto FC in the season opener minus Chad Marshall, the MLS Defender of the Year the past two seasons, but found that life goes on without the injured center back.

Warzycha often uses Danny O’Rourke in his spot to pair with Eric Brunner. That would have happened against TFC except the coach played a hunch: He liked the team that battled in the Champions League loss to Toluca in the second leg of the Champions League on March 17.

So out went normal left back Gino Padula for O’Rourke and Andy Iro was slotted into Marshall’s spot.

Go play the lottery, Mr. Warzycha. Iro scored the winning goal in the 29th minute and O’Rourke was instrumental on the insurance tally in the 86th by Schelotto as the Crew won 2-0.

“I didn’t want to change the team we played against Toluca,” Warzycha said. “We had momentum. That was the reason why I had the same today on the field.”

Iro did his best impression of Marshall. Each is about 6-5 and can sky for set pieces, which is what Iro was prepared to do when Schelotto lined up a free kick near the right sideline. The Argentine whipped the ball into the box where Iro headed the ball down toward the left post and the ball bounced once before settling inside the post.

“I’ve been watching Chad for a while now,” Iro said. “He times his runs really well. That’s one thing I’ve been working on ever since I came to the Crew. It kind of came together on that goal.”

Even if it wasn’t picture perfect.

“I didn’t think I hit it that clean,” Iro said. “I went in front of sort of late and it glanced my head. It wasn’t the cleanest of headers. Once I looked up and saw it headed to the corner I said, ‘OK, it’s going to have to be a good save.’ ”

Seeing a teammate get on the end of one of his services is nothing new for Schelotto.

“It’s easier to play to Marshall, or Steven Lenhart or Iro because they have height. You can find them very easily,” he said.

After the goal, the match had a similar feel to the home opener last season when Schelotto scored in the 30th minute but TFC hung around and got the tying score in the final minutes.

“All in all, it wasn’t our best game. It was ugly at times. There wasn’t a lot of rhythm,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said. “We’re a little bit upset we didn’t put the game away earlier. It was a little dodgy for awhile.”

Hesmer made fine fingertip saves on O’Brian White and Dwayne De Rosario in the second half when the outcome was in doubt.

“Will makes a couple of good saves. If he doesn’t, obviously, we win the game,” TFC coach Preki said. “He made the difference for them.”

The Crew had trouble cracking the Toronto system.

“Toronto played very defensive,” Schelotto said. “They only put one body in front. Sometimes when they defend a lot in the game it’s very difficult to pass but we played good. We played hard. We played sure.”

It took Schelotto’s goal into an open net to ice the victory. O’Rourke collided with goalkeeper Stefan Frei just outside the penalty area and slid into his midsection. Play continued with Frei down and TFC defender Nick Garcia had a poor clearance directly to Schelotto.

“I wait for the ball. I felt the ball. I shoot,” he said. “It was easy but you need to put the ball away. I had a player behind me trying to get the ball. Sometimes you have only one chance.”

That’s all he needed.

“The second goal, I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m not going to say anything,” Frei said.

O’Rourke had a different view.

“I figured it would be a tough 50-50 challenge,” he said. Usually when you don’t go in hard is when you get hurt. I sucked it up and went in. I got the ball first. I think when I slid maybe a stud came up. It wasn’t intentional. It was a good call. I’m sure they’ll see it the other way.”