Throughout his Major League Soccer career, Michael Parkhurst has been Mr. Reliable. He started 159 of 160 games played in six seasons split between the New England Revolution (2005-08) and Columbus Crew SC.
In his first season with Crew SC, Parkhurst missed one game due to international call-ups and came off the bench once when he returned from the United States camp.
The Black & Gold's captain played 92 percent of the team's minutes at center back last year and played every minute of this season until last Saturday. 15 minutes into the contest with Orlando City SC, Parkhurst received the first red card of his MLS career for denying a goal scoring opportunity with his arm.
In a busy portion of the schedule, three matches in seven days, head coach Gregg Berhalter and his staff have a bit of a headache to deal with come Wednesday night at the Philadelphia Union.
"We're going to miss our captain on Wednesday," Berhalter said of Parkhurst. "I think obviously it's not an easy situation, but the good side is, he only misses one game and it's a mid-week game. So he's back on Saturday."
The plan for this week was to alter the lineup in order to keep players fresh for all three matches. Parkhurt's center back partner, Emmanuel Pogatetz, was not in the starting lineup against Orlando in order to give him rest for Saturday. That plan changed after the red card.
"We're looking at the next game and as far as I'm concerned, he's available," Berhalter said of Pogatetz. "He's played 75 minutes in the last game and he's fine."
In Parkhurst's place will likely be veteran Tyson Wahl, who started in place of Pogatetz on Saturday. The defender has been a bit of a journeyman throughout his 11-year career, playing for five clubs around the league.
Wahl has made 47 appearances in three seasons for the Black & Gold, including 15 starts a year ago during Crew SC's push up the Eastern Conference. He has become a player the coaches can rely upon when he's needed.
"[Tyson's] been great this whole year," Berhalter said on Monday. "It's great as a coach having the confidence in someone that you don't even hesitate to put in there and Tyson's a guy like that. We wait for the opportunity to give him to play and he always does a good job. So we're confident that when he's called on again, he'll do a good job again."
Before Saturday's match, Wahl and Pogatetz had 79 total game minutes together, but gained 71 more after the substitution. These minutes may prove valuable against Philadelphia.
If either of the two starting center backs needs to come off the field, Berhalter will likely turn to one of two rookies. Sergio Campbell was selected by Columbus in the first round, 19th overall, of the MLS SuperDraft. Ryden was taken in the fourth round, with the 69th overall pick, and has spent most of the season on loan to Crew SC's affiliate club, the Austin Aztex. Neither player is yet to play an MLS minute.
"Kalen's been getting some good game practice in Austin," Berhalter said. "He's been doing a good job there. Sergio has been with us. He's been playing the college games and he played against Valencia a half."
Crew SC will hope that Wahl and Pogatetz will each be able to go 90 minutes, but Berhalter made it clear that any player is available for the match.
Not only will the Black & Gold lose their best defender in Parkhurst, but also the team's captain. With Wil Trapp, the vice captain, out with concussion symptoms, Clark wore the armband after the red card and is likely the favorite to do so again - although Berhalter said on Monday that no decision had been made.
With two less vocal center backs in the match, it will be up to players like Clark and right back Hector Jimenez to keep things organized.
"Mike's the leader of this team, but someone will step up," Jimenez said this week. "I think Steve Clark was the captain, given the armband, so we're all just going to be vocal."
The Black & Gold are fortunate to go against one of the league's weaker attacks without Parkhurst. The Union have scored 14 goals in 12 games, though they have been better offensively recently, scoring at least once in each of its their last three matches.
The game will still be a tall task for the back line, which has allowed two goals in each of its last five games. The last time Columbus conceded fewer than two goals? The first match with Philadelphia, a 4-1 victory.
Maybe that will be a good omen for a good defensive performance, even without one of the league's best defenders.