Over the next 10 days, the Columbus Crew will spend 270 minutes playing in three regular season MLS matches; another 90 minutes in the Black & Gold’s third round Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match against either the Dayton Dutch Lions or Chicago Fire PDL; and not to mention roughly 10 hours on planes flying from Columbus to San Jose, San Jose to Seattle, and Seattle back to Columbus.
Simply put: it will be the Crew’s most grueling stretch of the season.
“Hopefully we're going to do a good job of getting the right guys on the field and getting them fresh for the next one,” head coach Robert Warzycha said Wednesday before learning of the club’s Open Cup fate. “I think it will be a test of our character. Three (MLS) games in seven days, that's a lot.”
The Crew will hope it doesn’t experience any flight delays between the matches like it did traveling back from Portland as the team spent over eight hours at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
“Hopefully it goes better than the Portland trip. That was an adventure,” defender Josh Williams said. “We've got a lot of young guys with a lot of experience so legs shouldn't be a problem.”
Last week against FC Dallas, Warzycha only had 20 men to choose his gameday roster of 18. The head coach may be helped out to get fresh legs into the four matches as Dilly Duka, Carlos Mendes, and Olman Vargas could all return from hamstring injuries to be available for selection Saturday against San Jose.
When the Black & Gold visits the Bay Area to start the grueling stretch on Saturday night, the team will face arguably its toughest opponent thus far in 2012.
The Crew’s main task will be to shut down the Earthquakes’ strike duo of Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart. Wondolowski leads MLS with 11 goals in 11 games while Lenhart has chipped in four goals himself.
“It's going to be challenging for our guys. They have to step up and make sure they don't give too much freedom to (Wondolowski and Lenhart),” Warzycha said of the tandem. “They have to know where they are at all times.”
One of the men in charge of knowing where Wondolowski and Lenhart are at all times is third-year center back Williams. The 24-year-old has impressed in his four consecutive starts and feels confident he can continue that success against the Earthquakes.
“It's about believing in yourself. I believe myself and (Eric) Gehrig can compete with anybody in the league,” Williams said. “Just doing our homework and playing intense, knocking them, and making sure it's not easy for them (will be the key to beating San Jose).”
Buck Shaw Stadium has been kind to the Crew since the Earthquakes rejoined MLS in 2008. The Black & Gold is 2-1-1 on the campus of Santa Clara University and hopes to extend that fortune on Saturday.