The Crew lineup for Friday’s final preseason game may not be the one that opens the regular season March 19 at D.C. United, but it did give coach Robert Warzycha some options and the fans plenty of talking points.
Serbian defensive midfielder Dejan Rusmir started the 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo in Kennesaw, Ga., after being signed Wednesday. He played several games in Arizona as a trialist last month.
Warzycha has indicated the physical Rusmir, 31, could be in the First Kick lineup. Rusmir can play a more offensive role but for now will likely take the spot vacated by the traded Brian Carroll until Danny O'Rourke comes back from November knee surgery.
Emmanuel Ekpo was the playmaking center midfielder against Houston but his spot is not guaranteed. Second-year left winger Dilly Duka started over veteran Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven settled into his usual flank position.
Jeff Cunningham and Andres Mendoza, who scored in the 34th minute, were paired up top with Emilio Renteria sitting.
The competition there should be good, with Tom Heinemann and Justin Meram bringing energy off the bench
On the back line, newcomer Sebastian Miranda at right back and Chad Marshall in the middle are set. Julius James, acquired Feb. 28 after being released by D.C. United, got the nod Friday at center back over Andy Iro and could open next week against his former club.
Rookie Rich Balchan returned from a concussion to handle the left back duties while Shaun Francis recovers from a hamstring injury. A healthy Francis might mean Balchan moves to defensive mid and Rusmir plays higher.
William Hesmer, in his second straight start, seems on track to start vs. DC after missing two Champions League matches rehabbing a right shoulder fracture.
[inline_node:327091]Columbus assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren knows what the Chilean Miranda is going through.
Like Miranda, Iribarren was signed to lead the defense although he was not fluent in English. The big difference for Iribarren was he came from Argentina in the middle of the inaugural MLS season while Miranda has had this preseason to get acclimated.
“He speaks some English but sometimes, when you get tired, it’s hard to speak another language,” Iribarren said of the 30-year-old Miranda. “The players are happy with the experience he brings to the table. He has proved he’s a good player. He’s an experienced guy. He knows what to do. He tries to help as much as he can.”
Miranda was captain of his former club, Unión Española, so showing guidance comes naturally.
“When I’m on the field I always try to be a leader,” he said through a translator. “Obviously, language is a little bit of a barrier and as I keep learning the language I’ll be able to communicate with them not only on the field but off the field.
“Soccer is a universal language so the primordial things are known,” he said. “Obviously, as my English improves [the communication] is going to get better.”