OBETZ, Ohio – Danny O'Rourke was named the Columbus Crew’s MVP two years ago for being as versatile as he was valuable.
O’Rourke started 26 games that season for the Crew and won the award after he suited up at all four back line positions at some point during the season.
This year, it’s rookie Rich Balchan trying to fill that same handyman role, and he’s off to an impressive start. After he spent much of the preseason in the defensive midfield , Balchan started at center back during the CONCACAF Champions League series for the Crew’s depleted back line, and he started at left back during the team’s season opener at D.C. United because of a hamstring injury to Shaun Francis.
“Part of the reason they brought me to this team is my versatility,” said Balchan, who, like O'Rourke, is an Indiana University alum. “I need to prove at this level I can be versatile.”
Balchan was beaten on the play that led to the opening goal from United’s Josh Wolff, and now he might be on the move to yet another position. Crew coach Robert Warzycha is contemplating putting Balchan at right back, where Sebastian Miranda has played exclusively since joining Columbus in January. Miranda, then, would move to the left.
“Rich is going to feel more comfortable if we put him on the right side,” Warzycha said. “He is right-footed. With all the pressure, I don’t think he felt comfortable on the left. If he would have completed a couple of passes at the beginning of the game, probably it would be different.”
It’s clear that the Crew believe the speedy Balchan has a bright future, but he will be brought along slowly. Warzycha is not ready to commit to him for Saturday’s home opener against the New York Red Bulls (4 pm ET, Matchday Live).
“That game [in DC] was a lot for him, so we’ll see how he recovers mentally,” the Crew boss said. “If he’s not going to feel well, we’re going to have to make some decisions.”
“His physical tools are great,” goalkeeper William Hesmer said of Balchan. “He’s got the ability and speed. He’s got to learn a new system, learn a new league. He’s going to have some growing pains. Hopefully he got the nerves out the first game. He’ll be a good addition.”