OBETZ, Ohio – As he walked off the grounds of the Crew training facility on Saturday, Guillermo Barros Schelotto had the stiff gait and look of a guy who had spent more than 13 hours traveling the day before.
“Tired,” he said when asked how he felt.
And he hadn’t even played a Champions League match two days prior in Trinidad, though he was with the club for the four-day trip.
But by Sunday afternoon, el Mellizo (The Twin) was back in form, spraying passes and having a foot in all of the Crew goals during a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia to close the regular season.
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Schelotto himself gave Columbus a 1-0 lead 15 minutes in. His through ball put Eddie Gaven in position to draw a penalty at the right edge of the box, and the Argentine converted it.
In the 42nd, he headed the ball to Robbie Rogers at midfield. Rogers and Gaven played give-and-go and the final pass sent Emilio Renteria on a breakaway for a 2-0 lead.
Finally, in the 79th minute, Schelotto stripped the ball from former teammate Stefan Miglioranzi and dribbled 30 yards. As he neared the arc, the ball hit a Union defender and went left to Andrés Mendoza. One left-footed strike later, the lead was three.
[inline_node:319262]The win reenergized the Crew and their best player, who ended the season as the team leader in both goals and assists, with nine and eight, respectively.
After a day off Monday and a short and crisp practice on Tuesday, Schelotto had a far different outlook than he did on Saturday.
“I feel very good,” he said. “I’ve had a good recovery. I’m excited about the next game.”
This season, Schelotto played more minutes (2,545) than any Crew field player, and the only game he did not start was May 20 at New York because of a suspension. More importantly, he showed the ability to play multiple games in a short period of time.
For example, he started on Oct. 2 in a scoreless draw against San Jose. Three days later, he took the field at Seattle in a 2-1 US Open Cup final loss. Finally, in a 2-0 loss at Chicago on Oct. 8, Schelotto put in a full game. At the end of the span, he had played all 270 minutes.
While his goal production dropped by three, Schelotto’s improved fitness has allowed him to play 739 minutes more than last season. And even though the Crew open their conference semifinal series Thursday at Colorado, there is no doubt the 37-year-old forward will be in the lineup despite the relatively quick turnaround.
Schelotto’s status is far different than a year ago, when coach Robert Warzycha infamously benched his Argentine wizard for the first playoff game at Real Salt Lake.
Warzycha had cited the need to save Schelotto for the rematch in Columbus six days later as well as not being pleased by Schelotto’s performance down the stretch, when the Crew were blanked in three of the final four games.
The Crew went on to lose the opener at Salt Lake 1-0 after a late goal. Schelotto returned for the second leg and scored twice, but the Crew lost the game 3-2 (4-2 aggregate).
There will be no controversy this time around, especially with Rentería (knee) doubtful for the first leg. The onus will be on Schelotto to bring the Crew home in position to win the series on Nov. 6.
“He always steps up in the big games every time we need him to,” Crew defender Andy Iro said.
Not many games are more important than the playoff opener, and Schelotto is excitedly looking forward to it.
“The best moment of the season is the playoffs,” he said.
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