For a coach who once went 40 games without playing a rookie, Robert Warzycha is getting a lot of mileage from his first-year players this season.
Three of the Crew’s 2011 MLS SuperDraft picks were on the field at the completion of Saturday’s 2-0 win at Houston, and two more rookies were on the bench.
Certainly injuries and Robbie Rogers’ current stint with the US national team are factors for so many novices being involved, but the youth movement is no accident after an offseason purge of veterans.
That’s why Bernardo Anor made his second appearance (and first start) and opened his scoring account with a goal and an assist against the Dynamo.
Anor’s insurance goal in the 77th minute came from a set up by fellow rookie Justin Meram, who is becoming the super-sub replacement after Steven Lenhart was traded to San Jose during the offseason.
“It was a decision before the game whether to start [Meram] or put him on the bench,” Warzycha said. “We made the decision to put him on the bench because we thought he was going to be important in the second half. We were right. He was active.”
The third rookie contributor was top pick Rich Balchan. After being moved around the back line, he has settled into a steadier role as the defensive midfielder and even chipped in with the stoppage-time tying goal at New York on June 4 after receiving a pass from Meram.
“We all work very hard,” Anor said of the rookie class. “We talk about how much we want to work, how much we all want to get playing time. Between all of us we’ve shown the confidence. It’s working pretty well.”
There was a time when that wasn’t the case during Warzycha’s first two seasons. With smaller rosters, Alex Grendi was the only rookie involved in 2009, making just three league appearances. During the 2009-10 seasons, rookies made a total of 13 starts (Shaun Francis 10, Dilly Duka two and Grendi one) and 18 appearances.
By comparison, Balchan has started 14 of 15 games this season and Anor and Meram have contributed one apiece. The trio and fellow rookie Aaron Horton have a combined 22 appearances.
Warzycha anticipated the increase in minutes for his youngsters.
“That’s what we said before the season when we made all the changes,” he said. “It was going to take some time before these guys really reach the top, but we knew what we were going to do. You can see the guys are getting more comfortable. We focused on consistency with them because if you are young you are going to have some inconsistencies. We are going the right direction.”