It still cannot be said for sure who will start in the Crew’s backline on Saturday at Portland, but Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter knows that he needs to find a fill-in for both the departing Michael Parkhurst and Waylon Francis, with Giancarlo Gonzalez to soon follow in the coming weeks.
It’s been speculated that Tyson Wahl and Eric Gehrig are options to play in the backline this weekend, with Kevan George and Agustin Viana also in the mix. With the news that Columbus has recalled defender Ben Sweat from his game-by-game loan at Dayton, the 2014 first-round draft pick is another possibility.
“They sent me to Dayton to get two games in, to get my game fitness up while they were gone on that trip [to Kansas City and Houston],” said Sweat. “I went there and had two good games with them. I’ve just been trying to do everything possible in case [Berhalter] needs me … I’ve been doing everything asked out of me just to make sure I’m game fit and ready to go if he needs me.”
Sweat primarily played leftback during his career at the University of South Florida, where he finished as the school’s all-time leader in appearances. If he were to play on Saturday in Francis’ wake, it would be his MLS debut. Providence Park in Portland is renowned for being one of MLS’ toughest places to play, but Berhalter is not concerned with that as far as the difficulty of the environment for a young player like Sweat.
“I think either way, you get a lot out of it,” said the Crew boss, when asked if he leaned towards starting veterans due to the raucous environment. “If you play younger guys, they get a great experience. It’s something that [helps] them to be battle-proven, and I think that’s important. I would go either way.”
Berhalter added that Sweat received positive reviews from the Dayton coaching staff based on his two-match loan stint. The defender played a full 90 minutes on both May 4 vs. Charleston and May 10 vs. LA Galaxy II.
“He’s done well," said Berhalter. "I spoke to the coaching staff [in Dayton]. They were really pleased with him; they said he had two solid performances. All that, that’s good, that helps us.”
With the club needing to replace three-fourths of its backline over the next few weeks, there's certainly a chance that Sweat could make his MLS debut at some point in the near future, even if it isn’t this weekend.
“I’ve been working my butt off, I’ve been patient, and I know when the time comes, the time’s going to come,” said Sweat. “I’m going to enjoy it a lot.”