Without question, Chad Marshall will be missed as the anchor of the Crew backline on Saturday as the Black & Gold takes on Toronto FC (5:00 P.M./FOX Sports Ohio) after sustaining a strained hamstring last week against the Colorado Rapids. Head Coach Robert Warzycha is confident in his options to fill the void left by the two-time MLS Defender of the Year ahead of the match as his team looks to bounce back from back-to-back losses.
"Injuries happen," Warzycha said. "They are part of the sport. It's part of the game, so you have to be prepared for anything to happen."
If healthy, Warzycha could insert Danny O'Rourke (sprained ankle) into the center of defense or slide Tyson Wahl into the middle and place Agustín Viana (hamstring) at leftback. Both players are listed as questionable on the team's injury report. If neither O'Rourke nor Viana is able to go on Saturday, one scenario could see Josh Williams shift to centerback from the right and either Chad Barson or Drew Beckie fill-in at rightback.
When faced with a similar situation last season in Toronto, Warzycha elected to start Eric Gehrig at centerback in place of an injured O'Rourke. Gehrig earned Man of the Match honors as the Black & Gold took down the Reds, 1-0.
"I know exactly what each player can do," Warzycha explained. "I'm not evaluating them, I think that's probably the wrong word. I have to make the decision of which way I go. They're all good players , whether you go with Josh Williams inside, whether you go with Eric Gehrig or Danny O'Rourke: They're all good players. I've got a big decision with who can help the most."
Gehrig, who has yet to make an appearance this season, has anchored the Crew defense in MLS Reserve League matches has been patiently waiting for an opportunity while learning from veterans like Marshall, Gláuber and Wahl.
"Everyone wants to play, it's just the nature of the beast," Gehrig admitted. "It's not ideal not being out there, but at the same time, I think defensively we've done a pretty good job. Obviously after signing Gláuber who's an experienced player with a lot of credentials to his name, it's going to be tough for young players like me.
"If Coach calls my name, I'll be ready. I've been working hard since preseason and the offseason for opportunities like this. Obviously we're going to miss Chad, but I think this team has shown over the years that we're pretty deep. It's all about the next man in line stepping up."
Should Barson or Beckie get the nod, it would be a special occasion for very different reasons if either rookie makes their professional debut on Saturday. For Barson, he would become the fourth Crew Homegrown Player to appear in a match. It would be a dream come true for the Columbus native and lifelong Crew fan.
"It would definitely be an honor," Barson said. "Us Homegrown guys are trying to show that you can go up throughout he academy system and make it as a pro. By no means does just starting one game mean you've made it, but it's a progression. It's a positive and shows the hard work we've put in."
If Warzycha decides to go with Beckie in the middle of defense or at rightback, it would be a special moment for the proud Canadian to make his debut in Toronto.
"I'd love [to start] in Toronto at BMO Field, the home of the [Canadian Soccer Association] and in front of some friends," the Saskatchewan native said. "It would mean a lot to me, but I'm not looking towards that. I'm looking toward what's best for the team."
Though neither Barson nor Beckie has made his MLS debut yet, Warzycha is confident in his rookies. The Head Coach is comfortable with playing his young players in what is sure to be a hostile atmosphere in Toronto.
"I think they both can play," he said. "Obviously, it would a tough game for them because it's away from home and Toronto is a good team.
"It'll be tough, but I think they can do it. They're both good players."