OBETZ, Ohio – Jeff Cunningham was the last Crew player off the training field on Tuesday, but it wasn’t because he was trying to avoid facing the inevitable questions about playing against FC Dallas on Friday (7:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer) for the first time since FCD released him in December.
Well, maybe it did have a little to do with that, but the second-leading scorer in MLS history was mainly doing extra shooting – and later studying more video – to show he will do whatever is necessary to get minutes from coach Robert Warzycha.
“I’m sure Jeff wants to be on the field,” Warzycha said. “If he’s going to fit what we’re doing, he’s going to play. If not, he’ll be on the bench.”
Warzycha said on Thursday that he will go with the same lineup from the 0-0 tie against the New York Red Bulls last week, a match that Cunningham was not used in after going 61 minutes during the season-opening 3-1 loss at D.C. United.
That means the 4-4-1-1 formation will be employed for a second straight game as midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo plays underneath lone striker Andres Mendoza.
“It simplifies his game,” Warzycha said of Ekpo. “He feels more confident there.”
[inline_node:326308]Further hindering Cunningham’s hope of playing is the return of forward Emilio Renteria after missing two games with a strained hamstring. He will be on the bench Friday in Crew Stadium.
Cunningham, whose next goal will tie the retired Jaime Moreno’s league mark of 133 and will set a new Crew record at 63 (he’s currently tied with Brian McBride), has had a slow start in his second go-around in Columbus.
“My job is simple,” Cunningham said. “It’s to be as professional as I can and be ready, and if the opportunity arises, then I try to make the most of if it. That’s all I can do. I stopped worrying about things I don’t have control over. I’m trying to sleep at nights. I don’t have control over who the coach selects. What I do have control over is how I prepare.”
He thinks his added work will pay off.
“I’ve proven myself at every club that I’ve been to that I can score goals,” Cunningham said. “I did it in Dallas last year in limited minutes. I came off the bench and I felt I was a big part of their success last year. Every club I’ve been to, I’ve found ways to contribute. There’s no doubt I will do the same here. I hope that opportunity is given.”
Cunningham had 17 goals – 16 in the final 14 games – to win the MLS Golden Boot for FCD in 2009. Last season, he had 11 goals despite having only 13 starts among his 27 appearances.
“My résumé speaks for itself,” he said.
Warzycha is leaning toward starting rookie defender Rich Balchan at left back, opposite of Sebastian Miranda, as was the case for the DC game. They switched sides last match.
“We’re trying to help [Balchan] play the right side because he is more comfortable there, but we are taking something away from Miranda not being on the right,” Warzycha said. “If he’s over there, [Miranda] goes forward, he has a good cross.”
Also, rookie goalkeeper Alex Riggs will back up William Hesmer while Andy Gruenebaum recovers from a groin injury.