Olman Vargas
Jamie Sabau

Crew look back at first third of season with mixed reviews

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The nearly three-week sabbatical from MLS play came at both a good and bad time for the Columbus Crew, who defeated Chicago on May 26 to run their unbeaten streak to five but don’t play again until Saturday at New England.

The Crew (5-4-3, 18 points) have inched their way into a fourth-place tie with Chicago in the Eastern Conference, a somewhat surprising development since they took only one out of 12 possible points in April. But an improving defense and more attacking offense have helped compensate for as many as 10 players being out due to injury at one point.

“We were 2-1 [in March] and hit some bad luck as far as finding the net,” defender Eric Gehrig said. “The defense has been pretty solid as far as goals against.”

The Crew should have figured things were going awry when midfielder Dilly Duka injured his hamstring just 12 minutes into the season opener at Colorado on March 10. He’s missed more than half the games but he should consider himself lucky.

Backup forward Tommy Heinemann played five minutes against the Rapids and is out for the season (knee). Incumbent goalkeeper William Hesmer (hip) is also done for the year without playing a minute.

Julius James, Rich Balchan and Ben Speas have yet to play an MLS game this season and injury prevented Carlos Mendes from making his debut until the 11th game on May 23.

Captain Chad Marshall has missed the past five games with concussion symptoms, and in all, the Crew have had 90 player games lost to injury.

“I’m disappointed we’re having all these injuries,” president and general manager Mark McCullers said. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it. It’s just bad luck. On the flip side, to see where we are in the table and how the team has come together and responded and got some results is very positive.”

He points to an inexperienced player such as Josh Williams, who waited two-plus seasons to debut and has been solid in replacing Marshall. Gehrig, Cole Grossman and rookies Kirk Urso, Ethan Finlay, Aaron Schoenfeld and Kevan George have admirably stepped up as well.

“I’m not displeased,” technical director Brian Bliss said. “We started slow but we were trying to find our way with new acquisitions and some young guys. The last month, we’ve shown our mettle.” 

Still, if the Crew are going to make a playoff run, high-priced offseason acquisitions Mirosevic and forward Olman Vargas will have to produce after slow starts. Each got their lone goal of the season in the second game vs. Montreal.

“It’s been a season of ups and down, high moments and low moments,” McCullers said. “That all blends into the character of the team. Those experiences are going to help us down the road.”