The start to Daniel Paladini's stint in Columbus didn't go quite as he expected after signing with the club in December. The former Chicago Fire midfielder showed up to preseason ready to compete for a starting spot in the Crew midfield, but a knee injury early on and the surgery that followed has kept Paladini from seeing the field through the first two months of the season.
Now healthy and recovered, Paladini is regaining his fitness after seeing minutes in the Black & Gold reserves' scrimmage against West Virginia University on Sunday.
"For the most part, my body is completely healthy," the 29-year-old said after Wednesday's training session. "Now it's just about getting sharp again and fit. I think the fitness is there, now it's just the sharpness coming back. The reserve game this past Sunday, that was my first game in about four months.
"It's just about being sharp now."
The Crew's success so far this season, keyed by Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp in central midfield, has resulted in Paladini pushing his teammates to break into the starting XI.
"You've just got to keep pushing the guys that are starting," he said. "You've got to be ready when your name is called upon. I've been in this position before and it's one of those things where the team is doing well. Tony and Wil are doing fantastic in the middle and that's a big reason why we're winning games. We're at the top of the East because of the guys that are starting."
With three matches coming in seven days, it's possible Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter could call upon Paladini's services for fresh legs in the grueling stretch. No matter what the role, the midfielder will be ready if called.
"You've got to be ready," said Paladini. "If the coach needs you for 20-30 minutes or a full game, you've got to be ready to not only keep the level, but raise it. You can't come in and drop the level. It hurts you, it hurts the team -- you have to be ready."