With Michael Parkhurst leaving for the United Stated National Team camp this week, Columbus Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter knew that he would have to replace one mainstay on his backline this week.
With the news that Waylon Francis is departing ahead of Saturday’s match at Portland as well, Berhalter now must replace two members of his defensive unit this week— with a third, Giancarlo Gonzalez, leaving soon after.
Of course, Berhalter isn’t tipping his hand as to who will get the nod, but as far as filling the centerback void, veteran defender Tyson Wahl figures to be one of the Crew boss’ top choices. Wahl started 24 matches last season for Columbus, his first as a member of the Black & Gold. Like a true veteran, the Newport Beach, California native has been diligently preparing for the opportunity should Berhalter call his name Saturday.
“I was told once we had our starting lineup set in stone to be prepared for this time,” said Wahl. “I’ve been training hard, and trying to do as much extra work as possible, since obviously I haven’t played much.”
Berhalter specifically mentioned both Wahl and Eric Gehrig as two options to fill the centerback void.
“[Wahl], Eric Gehrig, these guys are hanging in there,” said Berhalter. “It’s not easy; they haven’t gotten any chance to play because of our centerback combination. You tell them, ‘listen, your time will come, be patient.’ Now’s the time when we’re going to be forced to make at least one change, so there’s going to be new opportunities.”
Like Wahl, Gehrig anticipated this time would come for the Crew, and he has been preparing for a potential opportunity to start.
“We’ve all been around for a while, we know how the season goes. We know that when those guys were going to get called, there were opportunities to be had. It’s about staying ready, staying focused, and staying involved in the team—not getting too high when things go well, and not going too low. Keep it even keel; that’s one of the things I’ve learned throughout the years."
Citing the workload of the leftback position, Berhalter said that he anticipates it will be difficult for someone to step in and immediately replace Francis, but Wahl says that he believes in the depth the Crew has.
“For our reserve team, our back line has been pretty solid," said Wahl. "We have other guys that can play too. I think Gehrig’s had a great year, great preseason, he’s looked strong. Chad Barson played a lot of games last year too, so there’s definitely some guys that are capable, and they might be called upon in a really important time of the year.”
One thing that adds to that transition is that Berhalter has made sure his reserves are practicing and playing by the same principles and style as the first team.
“[Berhalter] has been teaching the same things for both groups, so we’ve really focused from the very beginning when Gregg set his foundation of how we were going to play," said Wahl. "Both groups have played that way, so I’ve been used to building out of the back and trying to keep the same style. MLS games are played at a higher intensity, and it’s definitely an adjustment, so that’s why I’m doing some extra work.”
Beyond Wahl, Gehrig and Barson, Agustin Viana could slide back and play in defense, or Kevan George could get a look. George was recalled from Dayton by Berhalter to train with the team this week, and he is "absolutely" a centerback option, according to the Crew boss.
"There might be different people in different positions, but I don’t feel like there will be that much of a dropoff," said Gehrig. "There’s no reason why we can’t get some results over the summertime here.”