Robert Warzycha

Lineup changes coming after two big losses

Robert Warzycha’s loyalty to the organization was cited earlier this month by Columbus Crew president and general manager Mark McCullers as one of the reasons his contract as head coach was extended. In turn, Warzycha tries to be loyal to his players when things go wrong.

But 6-2 and 4-2 losses to the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, respectively, have tested his patience.

“After the Seattle game, I felt like I should give the guys another chance to get back and perform well, but I didn’t think they took that chance [against Toronto],” he said. “There are going to have to be some changes.”

They could come when the Crew (11-9-7) host Houston (8-9-11) on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

Foremost might be the first MLS regular-season start this season for Danny O’Rourke, a likely candidate to replace rookie Rich Balchan in the center midfield.

O’Rourke underwent knee surgery in November of last year and made his return to the pitch against FC Dallas on July 2, playing just 21 minutes in the 2-0 loss. It was decided afterward that he needed more conditioning.

Another possibility is second-year defender Shaun Francis also getting his first start this year over left back Josh Gardner. Francis has endured a series of hamstring and groin problems and his lone appearance this season was for four minutes in a 1-1 tie against New York on June 4.

“We have some guys coming back from injury we didn’t put on the field the last game because I was thinking, ‘One more game, one more game [for recovery],’” said Warzycha. “But right now I don’t have a choice. They have to be on the field because they are good players and have to help the team.”

Warzycha doesn’t like to mention specific moves, but one change is certain: forward Emilio Rentería is out after suffering a concussion against Toronto. Tommy Heinemann, who scored in the last game, could start. The wild card in all the potential moves is center back Chad Marshall, who curtailed Tuesday’s practice for an unspecified reason.

No matter who is on the field, the Crew need to eliminate the unforced errors that shredded their goals against average over the past 180 minutes.

“We’re all men here,” Gardner said. “We all know we have to take responsibility for our actions and we’ve got to build each other up and make sure we get the best out of each player.”

What has been most discouraging for the Crew is their lack of response to adversity. They have been outscored 6-0 in the past two first halves.

“We didn’t fight like we usually fight,” Julius James said of the 2-0 halftime deficit against Toronto. “We need to bring that to our next game.”

Columbus can break a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference with idle Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday before playing at third-place Philadelphia on Saturday.

Warzycha said that after relying on many young players to get them to this point, it’s time for the veterans to step up with seven games left.

“We can’t afford to have mistakes and we can’t afford the leaders to have bad games,” he said.

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