Saturday night's loss to the San Jose Earthquakes had plenty of issues for Columbus Crew SC. Many of those concerns will be addressed by head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff in training this week, but one that cannot is the red card to midfielder Mohammed Saeid.
The Swedish central midfielder has replaced the injured Wil Trapp in the starting lineup for the last six games, but will have to be swapped against the Chicago Fire Friday night due to his one match suspension. With Trapp expected to miss at least one more game - Berhalter continues to say he's making progress - a new face will get the start.
Initially against the Earthquakes, Berhalter stuck with Tony Tchani and Federico Higuain in midfield, slightly adjusting their roles. Kevan George entered the match in the 61st minute and assumed the Trapp/Saeid position.
Now, with three days to prepare and 90 minutes to play, where will Berhalter turn for arguably the most important position on the field?
The most like-for-like replacement for Saeid would be George. The Trinidad and Tabago international is in his fourth season with Crew SC, but has only made 24 appearances and nine starts. A year ago, Berhalter sent George to affiliate Dayton Dutch Lions to develop as a center back, but that plan was nixed not long after.
The positives for George are that he's naturally a defensive midfielder and has played the position with the reserve team multiple times. The negative is that it doesn't appear Berhalter trusts him, at least not in big moments.
When Saeid had to be substituted two week ago against the Seattle Sounders due to a groin injury, Berhalter brought in central defender Tyson Wahl instead of George, moving Michael Parkhurst up from the back to the midfield spot. After the game, Berhalter said he felt Parkhurst understood the flow better, having already played 60 plus minutes in the match, but the move raised eyebrows.
George's appearance in the last match may show more confidence in the midfielder to start on Friday, but Berhalter may again go in a different direction.
After being ruled out for a potential right back spot last week, Parkhurst could be in for a positional change of a different sort. After playing the holding midfield role against the Sounders, Parkhurst said it's a position he's played in the past and he could do it if needed.
What Parkhurst gives Crew SC in that role is a smart player who understands the system. He is familiar with the need to drop back into the defensive line, as he's played with Trapp and Saeid for over a year now. He will be good in the tackle and he can keep possession when the Black and Gold have the ball.
While Parkhurst has the ability to get forward on the outside, his offensive play in the middle is still questionable. Even in small-sided training games, Parkhurst doesn't often get forward frequently unless he's looking to cross the ball. The position doesn't dictate much offense, but there are times when Trapp or Saeid have been involved around the 18-yard box and it's good to have someone who can create a scoring chance in that roll.
If Parkhurst is the man in the middle, it will likely mean Wahl gets the start at center back alongside Emanuel Pogatetz. Chad Barson is another option to fill in.
Since Berhalter took over Crew SC, Tchani has flourished in his true central midfield role. Although he has defensive responsibilities, he is not asked to be the defensive midfielder and is able to be more involved in the attack. That could change this weekend if Berhalter elects to move him back a spot on the field and have a more attacking player fill in in front of Tchani.
This move wouldn't be unprecedented either. A year ago when Trapp missed time, Tchani switched roles, allowing Daniel Paladini to play a bit more offensively. Tchani did well dropping back, giving Columbus another big, physical player defensively.
Tchani can also get forward offensively when the opportunity presents itself and can finish a chance if a ball squirts out to him at the top of the box.
The 17-year old midfielder is yet to make his debut with Crew SC after signing with the team late last season, but the Homegrown product could be called into action this week.
In the Black and Gold's friendly games against collegiate opposition, typically consisting of reserve players, Swanson played Tony Tchani's role, or the more offensive of the two central midfielders. When asked about Swanson as a possibility, Berhalter told MLSsoccer.com that he was a possibility.
It would be a long shot for Swanson to play in this position, especially since he's not very familiar it, but if Berhalter believes he's the best man of the job this week in training, the youngster could fill in where fellow Homegrown player, Trapp, has already made his name.
This is probably the longest of shots for Friday, but a possibility nonetheless. Although Berhalter didn't mention Pogatetz, you would have to think the defender would be an option.
Like Parkhurst, Pogatetz has played a defensive midfield role previously. In fact, early in his career, the Austrian predominantly played as a holding midfielder before an injury forced him to the back line while playing for Middlesbrough.
It would be an adjustment for Pogatetz, having to come forward and drop back, that may require more than a few days in training to learn, but like Parkhurst, he would be good defensively and is certainly capable in possession. Pogatetz also would add a new dynamic in the attacking third with his size and a powerful shot.
Who would you like to see play in replacement of Saeid? Let us know in the comments below and check back to Massive Report for more information as it becomes available.