OBETZ, Ohio – Emilio Renteria has gone from the doghouse earlier this season to being the top dog in MLS this week.
The Crew’s ex-striker turned midfielder twice came off the bench to score as the Crew beat New York 3-1 on Thursday and Kansas City 1-0 three days later, earning himself MLS Player of the Week honors.
Those were his first MLS goals since joining the team in August, but he was happy that the scores were meaningful.
His flick off a Guillermo Barros Schelotto corner in the 84th minute helped the Crew to go to 6-0-2 heading into Saturday’s against Los Angeles (8-0-2) at Crew Stadium. Besides the Crew, the Galaxy are the only other unbeaten team in MLS right now.
“There’s a reason why he’s playing [on the right of midfield],” Crew coach Robert Warzycha said. “He did a good job in New York, and he did a good job in Kansas City.”
Renteria’s marker against the Red Bulls in the 83rd minute came right after New York had made it 2-1.
“It was great for the team because New York scored a few minutes earlier,” Warzycha said. “The goal helped the team relax and kill the game.”
It was a telling comment because Renteria had the opportunity to seal a win at FC Dallas on April 10, but dribbled to the middle of the field and lost the ball instead of going to the corner and wasting time.
FCD took advantage and got the ball into the penalty area, and Renteria had a poor clearance that led to a free kick that set up the tying goal in stoppage time.
Warzycha was upset with Renteria’s decision making and did not play him the next four matches, but gave him another chance at New York in part because of a depleted bench.
With Robbie Rogers away at the U.S. World Cup training camp, Emmanuel Ekpo moved into Rogers’ starting spot the past two matches and Renteria filled the role off the bench that Ekpo previously had.
Rogers and defender Chad Marshall did not make the 23-man World Cup roster announced on Wednesday, so they will be back with the Crew for Saturday’s match. Warzycha will have to make a choice. Since Rogers played the second half against the Czech Republic on Tuesday, will he be rested Saturday—especially with two road matches in four days next week?
If so, does Ekpo or Renteria start?
It’s a tough call because Renteria is giving the kind of spark that forward Steven Lenhart provided as a sub in his rookie season two years ago.
“We’re going to make a decision on Friday on how we are going to play,” Warzycha said. “[Renteria] is coming off the bench right now, and he’s probably going to start some games and we’ll find out what is going to be the best for him.”
Renteria said he is comfortable playing as a winger after spending much of his career as a forward.
“I’m getting used to the position,” he said. “I like it. I’m facing the goal. I need to keep working to know the position better.”
It’s one of several adjustments he has made since his arrival. He was known for having a booming but inaccurate shot off his right foot and was asked by the Crew staff to put less pace on the ball in hopes of finding the net more often. The verdict is still out.
Renteria also had to get accustomed to a new country, city and league without speaking much English. However, he said he is comfortable now.
“I’m working very hard, but I’m fully adapted to the USA,” he said through assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren. “My English is not that good. I need to focus a little more on learning. It will take some time.”
Lenhart speaks Spanish and the pair have become good friends. They often dine at the Venezuelan restaurants in Columbus.
“We hang out and chat and listen to music," Lenhart said. "He’s a good dude,”
And a dancer, too.
Renteria capped his goal at New York by going to the corner flag and doing the Champeta, a popular music and dance with South American and African influence.
“I hope he keeps scoring,” Lenhart said. “I want to see more of [the dance].”