Soccer is different than any other sport in the United States. The clock counts up and does not stop when the play does. Substitutions are limited to just three per match. There is not an emphasis on a high scoring game and fights are seldom.
Perhaps the biggest difference in soccer is the competitions outside of league play. This idea is confusing to the average American sport fan. "What? They're playing who? This game doesn't matter?" These are common questions when trying to explain tournaments such as the U.S. Open Cup.
This foreign concept to Americans provides headaches for soccer coaches worldwide. How do they manage their players through two or three competitions in a season and still succeed, while keeping players fit and healthy?
In the United States, MLS play tends to be priority number one. Teams often elect to use their first team players in league play and allow their younger players and reserves carry them through the Open Cup, especially in the early rounds.
This strategy was generally fruitful in the past, but with depth of soccer in this country increasing, lower league teams are upsetting their MLS matchup more frequently than before.
While the Columbus Crew have some history in the competition - winning their first every trophy in the tournament in 2002 - the question remains, how serious does the team take the Open Cup?
Since the 2002 campaign, Columbus has won just six games in the Cup and did not manage to qualify in 2008. The team did reach the final in 2010, but only faced two MLS teams on their march.
The last two seasons have seen the Black and Gold bow out of the Open Cup in the third round, the round MLS teams enter. Both early losses have come to USL Pro teams, the Richmond Kickers and the Dayton Dutch Lions, and have created pressure for the team to succeed this year.
This pressure was likely a reason head coach Robert Warzycha elected to field a slightly stronger team than he would have liked, as the Crew took on the Lions for the second-straight season. Though reserve players such as Chad Barson, Aaron Schoenfeld, and Konrad Warzycha started the match, goalkeeper Matt Lampson was the only Columbus player who had not seen time this season.
Warzycha elected to also play regulars Glauber, Danny O'Rourke, captain Frederico Higuain, and Eddie Gaven.
While the Crew got the two-year monkey off their back with a 2-1 win. It came at a cost, as Gaven was lost for the season with a torn ACL. A season ending injury in an Open Cup game is a tough blow, but it may not be the only issue for Columbus
The MLS season already provides a grueling summer and fall. The Crew are hoping to make a run in the MLS Cup Playoffs, that will add to their difficult schedule. Playing starters or regular rotation players in early Open Cup matches such as these could end up in fatigued legs when the MLS games become most important.
This team struggled to get results down the stretch last season and missed the playoffs by one point. They would love to have the necessary depth to make sure this does not happen, but injuries have already begun to plague the Black and Gold.
Beyond Gaven being out for the year, O'Rourke, Chad Marshall, Glauber, Dominic Oduro, and Agustin Viana have all missed time so far. Yet it is tough to argue against Warzycha's decision to play first-team players in the match against Dayton, despite a weekend tie with the Houston Dynamo, because of the recent failures. This became even more apparent when Columbus had to squeak by with a 2-1 win.
The balance of playing time for a soccer coach is unlike those in other sports. Warzycha has to walk the fine line of keeping players fit, finding experience for younger players, and getting results in both competitions the team is involved.
Recent failure forced the coach's hand in this instance. Whether it will hurt the Crew beyond the loss of Gaven is yet to be seen, but it is certain that injury alone will impact this season.