Why break up a good thing? Or, maybe, it can be even better?
Those are questions coach Robert Warzycha must ponder as the Columbus Crew prepare to play Sporting Kansas City on Saturday at Livestrong Sporting Park (8:30 pm ET, watch on MLS LIVE).
Forward Emilio Rentería returns from a one-game suspension for head-butting SKC’s Paulo Nagamura on July 14, but Rentería was not missed in Columbus’s 1-0 victory over D.C. United last week, when his replacement, Jairo Arrieta, picked up an assist and earned an honorable mention in MLSsoccer.com’s Team of the Week.
Arrieta was supported by the attacking midfield trio of Dilly Duka, Eddie Gaven and Justin Meram to give the Crew (7-7-4) a fresh and creative approach.
The problem — and it’s a nice one for Warzycha — is that Rentería appears to be in graet form. He played in Tuesday’s friendly against Stoke City and helped create the late goals by Aaron Horton and Ben Speas to lift the Crew to a 2-1 win against the English Premier League club.
“It’s difficult to change the team when you win,” Warzycha said of the lineup against United. “The guys who worked so hard, you have to reward them for that. On the other hand, in the game Tuesday it was a good performance by Emilio.”
Warzycha won’t have to deal with fitting midfielder Milovan Mirosevic back into the mix for at least another week. The Chilean attacker is still recovering from an adductor strain that has sidelined him four of the past seven matches.
Also, midfielder/defender Danny O’Rourke (left ankle sprain) and left back Nemanja Vukovic are both out. Vukovic injured his left ankle in the Stoke City game and will be gone for about a month. In his place, Josh Williams will start at left back.
Chad Marshall, who left the D.C. game with an ankle sprain, will likely start Saturday at center back and his partner will be chosen from Eric Gehrig, Carlos Mendes and Julius James.
If Warzycha doesn’t want to tinker too much with the first XI then Cole Grossman would get a second straight start in the center midfield alongside Chris Birchall, who had his first Columbus goal against D.C. United.
The Crew are averaging a goal a game but have only six in nine away matches as the search for consistency continues.
“It’s not a mystery that the coaches have changed a lot of times the way of attacking, the way of joining the pieces from the middle to the forwards,” Mirosevic said.
Andy Gruenebaum, a native of nearby Overland Park, Kan., will make his fifth career start in goal against the club he watched growing up. His family had season tickets for the inaugural 1996 season of MLS when Kansas City — then known as the Wiz — played to sparse crowds at massive Arrowhead Stadium. Now, he’ll face an expected sellout crowd at Livestrong.
“Arrowhead was tough to fill,” Gruenebaum said. “Obviously they’ve found a new home and just the energy behind it has really led to consistent attendance. It’s one of the toughest places to play in MLS.”