Tony Tchani

Crew looking to start strong with some missing pieces

For Columbus Crew newcomers like Milovan Mirosevic and rookie Kirk Urso, Saturday’s season opener against the Colorado Rapids (6 pm ET, MLS Live) is just another road game.

But don’t tell that to the Crew players who were at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Oct. 27, when a 1-0 Rapids win eliminated them from the MLS Cup Playoffs for the second time in as many years.

“The guys who were on those teams when Colorado knocked us out probably carry that with us a little bit,” captain Chad Marshall said. “Obviously you play the game to win championships. Any time you don’t, you’re always looking at the team that knocks you out but we’ve got a lot new guys. It’s just another game for them.”

But having five players on the 18-man travel squad who don’t have the same visceral reaction to a match with the Rapids might be a good thing. The Crew have lost their last four meetings in Commerce City, Colo., over the past two years, all by shutout.

Warzycha hopes Mirosevic and Urso can be streak busters.

Mirosevic is being counted on to take up some of the scoring slack left by the departed Andres Mendoza (13 goals in 2011), but also use his ample passing skills and vision to create chances for his fellow attackers.

He will play behind forward Emilio Renteria at the tip of the diamond while Urso, a University of North Carolina product, will assume the defensive midfield spot that was a carousel last season.

Eddie Gaven should man the right flank with Dilly Duka replacing Robbie Rogers, who joined England’s Leeds United, on the opposite side.

Gaven has been bothered by a right ankle sprain but practiced Friday and made the trip to Colorado. Ethan Finlay, the rookie out of Creighton, is his backup.

Tony Tchani will replace Emmanuel Ekpo in the center midfield after the Nigerian’s contract was not renewed. Knee surgery limited Tchani to one game for Columbus last season – the playoff game against the Rapids, incidentally – after being acquired from Toronto FC.

With incumbent William Hesmer (right ankle) out, Andy Gruenebaum will start in goal, giving him half as many games as he played in all of 2011. Rookie Matt Lampson from Ohio State will be his backup.

Sebastian Miranda and Shaun Francis will man right and left back, respectively, while Marshall will team in the central defense with Danny O’Rourke - the starting duo from the Crew's double-winning 2008 side.

Starting has extra meaning for O’Rourke, who struggled through knee problems in 2011 and had had to pull himself from the first XI prior to the playoff game at Colorado.

“It was very difficult at the time,” he said. “You’re not letting your team down, but when they’re counting on you to be out there and you can’t play, it’s disappointing.”

And that’s why he’s had March 10 circled on his calendar since the game was announced in January.

“In the back of our minds, if we get a victory there it’s probably going to mean a little more than it would playing at another place,” O’Rourke said.

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