As much as the Columbus Crew coaching staff would love to maintain a specific way of playing every match, the fact remains that it's been impossible to instill a consistent style because of the numerous injuries they've endured this season.
Saturday's trip to New England (7:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online) will be yet another mix-and-match occasion as injured midfielder Milovan Mirosevic returns from two matches on the sidelines, while attacking midfielder Dilly Duka is out because of a reoccurring hamstring problem.
Based on training during the week, forward Justin Meram may get the start at left midfield in Duka's place.
Meanwhile, Danny O’Rourke (ankle sprain) will not play, so rookie Kevan George may make his second straight start at defensive midfield.
It'll be a brand new look for the Crew, which itself isn't all that strange for the team.
“One or two is not that big a deal but three or four changes usually brings a different style of play,” assistant coach Mike Lapper said. “It doesn’t mean that we’re changing our formation or how we want to play but those guys bring different qualities.”
The match could feature forwards Emilio Rentería and Olman Vargas paired as starters for the first time in seven games. And backup forward Aaron Schoenfeld may be available after sitting five games with a foot injury, though he is more likely to see action in Sunday’s reserve match vs. the Revolution.
“The lineup depends on who plays in front and who you have play behind them,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “Is [the player behind] a runner or a passer? Is it somebody who keeps the ball more? We have a long talk about this every single game.”
The backline has not been immune to injuries either. Captain Chad Marshall has not played since April 28 against Vancouver because of concussion symptoms, and could still be weeks away from playing.
Josh Williams has taken his spot and teamed with Eric Gehrig for most matches, although Carlos Mendes got the start over Gehrig in the last match on May 26 vs. Chicago.
Despite the upheaval, the Crew (5-4-3) are unbeaten in five matches.
“It doesn’t matter who’s out there,” veteran Eddie Gaven said. “We’re trying to play the exact same way even though we’ve had so many guys out.”
Warzycha has gotten results even when he’s not had his best players on the field, and even when his methods have been questioned – he benched Meram against Chicago even though the youngster had goals in three straight games.
“That was a very, very tough decision,” Warzycha said. “But we had some guys coming back off injury and we decided to play them and sometimes they’re not ready for 90 minutes. You can’t have three or four guys you already know may have to come off the field.”
He wanted to insert Meram in the second half, but an early injury to Duka changed his plans and Meram never got on the field. The Crew still won 2-1.
“You’re good if things work,” Warzycha said. “If that wouldn’t have worked that would be a different story.”