Assessing his midfield heading into Thursday’s wild card matchup with the Colorado Rapids (10 pm ET, Direct Kick, TSN2), Columbus Crew head coach Robert Warzycha was as candid as he was laconic.
“There’s a little bit of concern,” he admitted on Monday.
And not unreasonable concern. Stalwart central midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo is suspended for the game after earning a second booking in stoppage time Saturday for a challenge on Chicago Fire forward Dominic Oduro.
Holding midfield Kevin Burns was replaced in the 39th minute during the same match by wide midfielder Robbie Rogers after the Crew fell behind 2-0 in an eventual 3-2 defeat that cost them second place in the Eastern Conference and a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
“We have to do better tactically whether Burns is on the field or not or whoever is going to be there,” Warzycha said. “Sometimes [marking] the player is more important, sometimes space. In the game against Chicago we couldn’t figure it out.”
Burns got the start over Danny O’Rourke, who Warzycha said needed more recovery time after playing on the turf in the Crew’s previous match at New England. O’Rourke missed much of the season after undergoing left knee surgery nearly a year ago.
“All year I’m trying to find the right combination,” Warzycha said. “We saw a little bit of what Danny and [Ekpo] could do when they played together at New England. That was the combination I was looking for all season but obviously we can’t have it now.”
O’Rourke’s status for Thursday is still undetermined. As he left after training on Monday he said he was going to see a doctor but wouldn’t say what for. However, he said his knee is fine.
“It felt pretty good in practice,” O’Rourke said.
It better be by the time Columbus kick off against the Rapids, because Warzycha is adamant that O’Rourke will be on the field.
“I’m counting on him to start Thursday,” Warzycha said. “He doesn’t have a choice.”
If O’Rourke does start he will likely play behind Dilly Duka, who scored for a second straight game against Chicago. Duka was on the flank before making a switch to allow Rogers room on the wing opposite Eddie Gaven.
“He was a link in the middle,” Warzycha said of Duka. “That was a good move by us to bring him inside and have more touches because in the first 30 minutes I don’t think he saw the ball enough.”
Rogers and Duka usually occupy the same position, but Warzycha wants to see both on the field at the same time as well as Gaven.
“I think we have to,” Warzycha said. “[Duka and Rogers] can play together, definitely.”
Offered the 22-year-old Duka, “It’s not going to be the same [as Chicago], but we’ve been interchanging our first 11 all year, especially in center mid. We’re still confident whoever we put in the middle we’re going to jell and be a tough team to break down.”