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Columbus Crew Must Make Do With Central Midfield Duo

The Crew will be without starting central midfield pairing Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani on Sunday. Two new players must step in and keep the ball rolling.

Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sport

Wil Trapp and Tony Tchani have combined for zero goals and only four assists on the season for the Columbus Crew. The two central midfielders have totaled 38 shots in a collective 47 games, yet it was a big loss when both received yellow cards last Saturday, which will force them to miss this Sunday's game with Chivas USA due to yellow card accumulation they faced for several weeks.

The two players have grown in head coach Gregg Berhalter's system this year, helping in possession and developing one of the best partnerships in Major League Soccer. Yet Berhalter believes losing both central midfielders may be a positive for his team.

"I think when you look at it, it may be a good time for other guys to get a chance and now it's both [players] at the same time," Berhalter said on Tuesday.

"It's a good opportunity for two new guys to come in and try and make their case to be a starter."

When Trapp missed time earlier in the season, it was typically Agustin Viana who filled in alongside Tchani, but the Uruguayan is recovering from a calf strain. Tchani has rarely missed time for the Black and Gold this season, playing 2,312 out of a possible 2,340 minutes.

So who are the candidates to step in to two crucial positions on Sunday against Chivas USA?

"We have a number of guys," Berhalter said in response to this question.

"Last time we went through the same exercise, we had Daniel, we had Kevan, we mentioned Eric Gehrig could play there. We feel like we have enough options."

Daniel Paladini came over from the Chicago Fire in the offseason, but has only appeared three times for Columbus this season with two starts. He is a self-described box-to-box midfielder who has a cannon shot that has yet to be seen in game action this year.

Kevan George is in his third season with the club and has only three appearances as well. George spent the much of the early portion of the year on loan to the Crew's affiliate, the Dayton Dutch Lions, in an attempt to switch to a new position at center back. Since coming returning to Columbus, he has focused more on the midfield due to need.

"He's done a good job of staying focused this year," Berhalter said of George. "The Dayton experience was great for him to get games and to learn another position but we're happy with how he's been doing."

Paladini and George are the likely starters, but Berhalter's mention of Gehrig provides an interesting possibility. The head coach has stated several times the Gehrig has earned playing time this year with his performances and he likes his versatility. He could turn to the 26-year old again to revert to his former position.

"First of all, wherever he wants to play me, I'll gladly do," Gehrig said when asked about moving up to center midfield.

"Over the years, I've played in the central part of the field, so I think from that aspect it's definitely something I'm familiar with and something I'm capable of doing.

"In college obviously and my first year here I played in that role. In that role, you're playing in the back. It's the same kind of thing as what you're doing at center back, a little different obviously, but it's definitely something that I can do."

If Berhalter does turn to Gehrig, it would mean filling the right back spot Gehrig has held down recently. Second-year defender Chad Barson has demonstrated his ability to play there this year and could fill in for Gehrig.

With Trapp and Tchani playing so frequently together this year, the chemistry on the pitch built between the two has become apparent. It will be important for whoever steps in to develop that quickly.

"It's important," Berhalter said. "But we'll work on that in training and I think it's just knowing the position, knowing how to play the position, knowing the movement in the position. We'll be able to work on that."

As for Trapp and Tchani, Berhalter thinks this is a good time for them to get some much-deserved rest.

"I think for them it's rest and refocus a little bit," he told reporters. "They've both been going hard all year so I think this rest in the end is not going to hurt them too much."

If the Black and Gold get back on track after the 2-0 loss to the Montreal Impact last Saturday, it will mean the midfielders stepped up in the absence of their starters. The staff and team has confidence in both players, but no one has seen how they will do on the field.