OBETZ, Ohio – A year ago this weekend, skeptics wondered if Guillermo Barros Schelotto would be fit enough to get his aging body through the season.
He gave an incomplete answer with his first appearance in more than a month against FC Dallas on Aug. 15, 2009, after missing four games because of a left hamstring strain.
Although the then-36-year-old Schelotto worked his way back into the starting lineup, he didn’t appear as sharp and seemed to chafe under the coddling of Crew coach Robert Warzycha.[inline_node:314861]
It was Warzycha who would sit Schelotto when away games were on artificial turf or the schedule got busy. The latter reason was why Schelotto, the league MVP in 2008, was benched for the first playoff game at Real Salt Lake last year.
With a Saturday-Thursday schedule, Warzycha hoped to sneak out of Rio Tinto Stadium with at least a draw in the first leg of the series and have a fresh Schelotto for the deciding match in Columbus.
The strategy almost worked, but a late Andy Williams goal foiled the plan and Real Salt Lake stunned the Crew 3-2 in the second game despite two goals from Schelotto to eliminate the then-defending MLS Cup champions.
Now, as the Crew return to Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday, the only question asked of Schelotto is how does he keep going?
With midfielder Eddie Gaven about to miss a second straight match because of a concussion, Columbus Argentine has taken over the team lead in minutes by a field player (1,609) and has started 18 of 19 games, the only miss being a May 20 match at New York after being suspended for throwing an elbow vs. Chivas USA.
He even played on the turf at Seattle on May 1 and has twice done the Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday game schedule.
“I feel very good. I feel the same or better than last year,” Schelotto said.
Schelotto has finished 13 of 18 matches and has played all but 11 possible minutes. That’s a dramatic change from last year, when he was substituted in nine of 14 matches before getting injured during a game at Chicago and had to leave.
“I get 90 minutes, not every game, but I can do it,” the Argentine attacker said.
Warzycha said he’s giving Schelotto more time because his player is healthy and has earned it.
“Before he was injured [last year], he was very fit,” said Warzycha. “Then he got the injury and he never got the fitness back. He’s doing well now. He’s fit. I like to keep him on the field.”[inline_node:313278]
Warzycha, in his second full season as head coach, is still learning how to read Schelotto. As Carlos Valderrama famously did late in his MLS career, Schelotto conserves energy and picks his spots.
“[Schelotto] knows what he’s good at and the guys on the team know what he’s good at and they kind of do the running for him, but he makes great final passes and he’s a good finisher,” midfielder Robbie Rogers said. “He has confidence and gives the team confidence, and that settles things down on the field. You need a player like that.”
Schelotto may do little for long periods of time, and then burst for a game-changing moment, much like the superb restart to the head of Steven Lenhart in the 43rd for a goal in last week’s game at Philadelphia. Ten of Schelotto’ past 11 assists have been from free or corner kicks.
Schelotto also commanded the field in the waning minutes against the Union to preserve a 2-1 victory.
“At the end of the game, he was playing exactly the way we needed,” Warzycha said. “You have to keep possession, find guys and be smart at the end. He showed why he’s on the field at the end of the game.”
Schelotto has used his newfound energy to lead the team with five goals and seven assists, and his name is being mentioned as an MVP candidate again.
And, according to Rogers, Schelotto’s “not really slowing down either.”