Crew head coach Robert Warzycha has yet to use the same lineup in three straight matches so far in 2012, and will have at least one change in the starting XI this week against D.C. United as central midfielder Cole Grossman will miss the match due to the red card he picked up in the 98th minute of last week's victory in Kansas City. While it might not seem like a huge change to some, the Black & Gold is 3-0-0 when Grossman is in the starting lineup this season.
"(Grossman) works very hard on the field," Warzycha said of the second-year midfielder. "During the game, we're always talking to Cole and telling him he has to change his speed and he has to learn that defensively and offensively. He was doing a better job of that."
Warzycha will have plenty of options when it comes to replacing Grossman against D.C.. Veterans Milovan Mirosevic and Danny O'Rourke have returned to full training after battling injuries to compete for the spot, while younger players Tony Tchani and rookie Kevan George are also viable alternatives.
"Competition is always good," Warzycha explained after Thursday's training session in Obetz. "Obviously, we have so many guys in that position. You're not going to have happy campers, but I think the competition is going to make them better and will make them want it more. They're going to get better."
Whichever player starts in Grossman's place, will likely play alongside Chris Birchall. The Trinidad & Tobago International scored his first goal with the Crew in the team's 1-0 victory over United back on July 21. The Crew will look to take its ninth point in three matches against two of the MLS Eastern Conference's top teams in Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United.
In the previous match against United, the Black & Gold came out of the gate firing with a potent attack led by winger Dilly Duka. Duka admits that at this point in the season, every point is crucial for the Crew as it focuses on reaching the playoffs for the fifth-straight season.
"Our mentality has been different. We're in a situation where we need every point to make it to the post season. (Kansas City and D.C.) have more points than us, so these have been key games to take points away from," Duka elaborated.
"Two weeks ago, we came out and knew (D.C.) was a good team," the winger continued. "We knew we had to battle from the first minute to the last. We definitely jumped on them early. We were hungry. We needed the three points."
In the July 21 victory, the Crew shut out a D.C. United offense that is among the league leaders in goals scored. The Crew back line keyed-in on All-Star attackers Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario with physical defending to keep the clean sheet, and will look to mirror that in Washington on Saturday.
"Heart and determination (were the keys to the July 21 win)," Warzycha explained. "We pressured (D.C.) higher and we didn't allow them to play. We always talk before the games about key players--the ones we really, really have to pay attention to-- we did a good job on De Rosario and we did a good job on Maicon Santos and Pontius as well."
"Sometimes you have to play (physical) to win," right back Sebastian Miranda said. "This weekend is no different in the battle because (D.C.) has a very good team with their forwards and the midfielders. They change the point of attack every single time. We have to be very alert because Pontius, De Rosario, and many other players are making diagonal runs or dropping a little bit. We have to be concentrated."
The Crew will visit RFK Stadium for the 33rd time in all competitions since 1996. Miranda hopes this trip to Washington is better than last year's visit, when Miranda made his MLS debut in a 3-1 defeat to kick off the 2011 season.
Looking back, the match last March was a bittersweet beginning to playing in Black & Gold for the Chilean defender.
"It wasn't good for me because we lost and I made the penalty (that put United ahead)," Miranda reflected. "That was my first MLS game, but that was the beginning of a very good time for me because for me, I think today is very good. I'm having a very good time, very good life and teammates and everything (in Columbus)."
"I hope this weekend is different and we can win," the Chilean finished.
The Crew kicks off against D.C. United at 7:30PM EST from RFK Stadium on FOX Sports Ohio.