The Columbus Crew Soccer Club look set to be without two first choice players for their upcoming match with the New York Red Bulls. Starting left fullback Waylon Francis has been called in to the Costa Rica National Team, and Justin Meram, starting left winger, has been called up to the Iraq National Team. This time last year a situation such as this may have left Head Coach and Sporting Director Gregg Berhalter with a headache or two, but this year he has several options to fill these vacancies, including some new arrivals.
The easier of the two decisions will likely be in the defense. Chris Klute, formerly of the Colorado Rapids, joined the Black and Gold through a trade during this year's MLS SuperDraft. There was initially some speculation that he was being brought in to hold down the right-back position, but the signing of Hernan Grana put those thoughts to bed. After a couple of shaky performances in pre-season the 25 year old Texan found himself on the bench for the first two matches of the season, but Francis' call up to the Tico's will likely present him his chance to make his regular season debut for the Crew.
Other options include Chad Barson and Tyson Wahl. Barson played primarily on the right side, but filled in on the left occasionally in 2014 to largely forgettable results. Tyson Wahl is primarily a center defender by trade, but in the past has filled in on the left as well. It is doubtful that either would jump Klute on the pecking order, unless something has happened that we don't know about. It should be noted there is a chance that Francis may be sent back to the Crew after the first of the Tico's two matches, making this entire section meaningless.
Berhalter has more legitimate options to consider when replacing Meram, however. Kristinn Steindorsson started in Meram's place during the opening week loss to Houston Dynamo, which Meram missed due to suspension after he was red carded in the Playoff loss to the New England Revolution last season.
The Icelandic international was solid, showing good movement off the ball and impressive ability to create space for others, and had a decent shot saved by Tyler Deric, but ultimately he did not do enough to usurp the starting job from Meram. However, it stands to reason that he will likely be Berhalter's choice to fill in against the Red Bulls. It was possible that Crew SC might be missing both Steindorsson and Meram. Steindorsson had a recent call-up to the Icelandic National Team, but missed out in joining for their EURO qualifier against Kazakstan.
However there are several other players ready to step up if called upon. Home-grown player Ben Speas has only featured for ten minutes over the course of the first two games of this season, but did feature on the wings at times in pre-season. He also saw time in the "Higuain role", so it's possible Berhalter hasn't settled on what exactly his best position is. If that's the case, his prospects may be hindered.
Hector Jimenez is also in also in the conversation.. Jimenez has been something of a utility man for Berhalter since joining the Crew, playing both on the wing in attack or at right back. He has been trusted in high pressure situations, and could well find himself back in the first eleven come Saturday. Jimenez has played all three attacking midfield positions so he could play on the left, or Ethan Finlay could swap to the left wing, and Jimenez slots in on the right. The long shot, youngster Romain Gall has been injured and needs to get back into game shape.
News broke Sunday afternoon that Wil Trapp has been called in to the Under 23 USMNT, but this will not cause him to miss any playing time with Crew SC. He will face off against a Danish youth side on Tuesday, March 31st. He will leave after the Red Bull game on Sunday evening.
An abundance of options is never a bad problem for a coach to have to deal with. Losing players to international duty early in the season, before injuries and suspensions set in, hurts less than in the middle of a playoff push. Whoever Berhalter goes with will have to impress on Saturday if they wish to retain their spot, and the team as a whole may actually benefit from the competition.