OBETZ, Ohio – The partnership between Danny O’Rourke and Chad Marshall goes back to the Columbus Crew’s 2008 season opener, when they started in the center defense together for the first time.
They were paired 21 times that season as the Crew won the MLS Cup. But injuries and tactical moves have limited them to only 11 starts as a tandem since then, including the past three matches.
Whether that modest streak continues Saturday at New York (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online) is still in question as Crew coach Robert Warzycha, per usual, is not tipping his hand as to the status of O’Rourke.
“Every game is different,” he said. “It depends on who we’re playing. It could change every game. We have three games in a short period of time, so we’ll see.”
The question with O’Rourke (above) has been his health. After having knee surgery in November 2010, he made six appearances last season and was fully recovered this year, only to suffer ankle sprains that have cost him 11 games.
Still, if there were worries about his fitness, he answered them by logging 90 minutes four times (one start was as a midfielder) in 12 days, culminating in the 2-0 loss at New England on Sept. 5 that stopped Columbus' four-game winning streak.
Fatigue from seven games in 22 days was a factor in that defeat. But the Crew (12-9-6, 42 points) are well rested for their next busy stretch, with a home game Wednesday vs. Chivas USA and a match Sept. 22 at Chicago.
“It’s no big deal after what we’ve gone through,” goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum said. “We have another Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday coming up, but we’re used to that.”
Warzycha is happy to have options at several spots as the team continues a return to full strength. Among players who haven’t suffered season-ending injuries, only center back Carlos Mendes (hamstring), midfielder/defender Rich Balchan (sports hernia surgery) and midfielder Ethan Finley (infection) won’t be available.
In Mendes’ absence, Josh Williams or Julius James could start over O’Rourke alongside mainstay Marshall.
“Everybody is anxious to play,” Warzycha said. “It could be Danny. It could be Julius or Josh.”
Williams could also return to left back, where Nemanja Vukovic has started the past two games against Montreal and New England after Williams was red-carded at Philadelphia on Aug. 29.
The rest of the lineup is easier to predict, beginning with Andy Gruenebaum in goal. Sebastian Miranda will be at right back with Chris Birchall (unless Warzycha opts for O'Rourke) and Milovan Mirosevic manning the defensive midfield spots, although Mirosevic, a natural attacker, is still getting comfortable in his new role.
“The few days off helped [Mirosevic] a lot,” Warzycha said. “It seems like he’s got his legs back. He’s running more and is more accurate with his passes. I think that is the right position but he has to find his game a little bit more.”
Barring changes, Eddie Gaven and Dilly Duka will be on the flanks with Federico Higuain roaming underneath forward Jairo Arrieta.