OBETZ, Ohio — The Columbus Crew have two trialists in camp, but the real reinforcements could be coming soon when midfielder Danny O’Rourke and defender Shaun Francis make their first appearances of the season.
O’Rourke (left knee surgery) and Francis (left hamstring strain) have resumed full training but need to get match fit, with their next opportunities likely coming Monday in a reserve match at New York.
Francis, injured during preseason, is the closest to returning to the lineup. However, he is not expected to dress for the Crew’s game Saturday against Chivas USA. (7:30 pm ET; Direct Kick, Matchday Live)
“I’m not sure Saturday is the best thing for him,” coach Robert Warzycha said.
Francis played 45 minutes in a reserve match on May 9 and got more minutes in a scrimmage against the Crew’s Under-20 team last week.
“I’m not going to rush it,” Francis said.
O’Rourke had knee surgery in November and is not eligible to come off the injured list until Columbus’ game at New York on June 4. The additions of O’Rourke and Francis could change the dynamics of the team.
“They’re potential starters,” Warzycha said. “Danny has a lot of experience and played for a few teams in the league. It would be nice to have Danny on the field and the same with Shaun.”
O’Rourke’s impending return could ease the loss of midfielder Robbie Rogers, who could miss all five games in June while away with the US national team at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“Danny brings quality,” Warzycha said. “There’s no question that when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best defensive center midfielders in the league.”
Dejan Rusmir, Kevin Burns and occasionally Emmanuel Ekpo have filled the defensive mid spot, but using O’Rourke there might free someone such as Ekpo to attack more aggressively for the goal-challenged Crew.
While O’Rourke has not scored in his 139 career games, he is good at possessing and distributing the ball.
Defensively, the Crew have been solid for the most part in Francis’ absence with rookie Rich Balchan filling in. However, Francis showed in his rookie season last year that he has the pace to be a threat on the left side, something badly needed for a team that has eight goals in 10 games.
“I’m more of an attacking person than a defender,” Francis said. “I’m playing a role that I have to defend but still you have to think about going forward and helping the team.”
Warzycha agrees: “I would love for the fullback to go forward, and Rich is not that comfortable over there going forward,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nigerian midfielder Julius Ubido joined the Crew for a tryout and will dress for Monday’s reserve match. The 26-year-old plays for Heartland FC in the Nigerian Premier League. Defender Mike Jones from SIU-Edwardsville is also training. He was cut by Sporting Kansas City earlier this year.