When it was announced last week that Columbus Crew SC would have eight players called up for international duty for this week, it was a shock to fans of the Black & Gold. Eight is a rather large number and how would the team respond with a game Sunday against FC Dallas?
On Sunday, Crew SC announced another player was called up, making it nine players away for international duty or a one-third of Columbus' roster.
The players missing this week are league-leading goal scorer Kei Kamara, typical starters Justin Meram, Waylon Francis, Harrison Afful, Wil Trapp, reserve players Kevan George, Ben Speas, Cedrick Mabwati, and Sergio Campbell.
So where does head coach Gregg Berhalter turn for a lineup this week? Here are some options:
This seems the most likely starting lineup for the Black & Gold. Along the back line Chad Barson replaces Afful, Chris Klute is in for Francis along with the recent starting center back pair of Michael Parkhurst and Tyson Wahl.
Filling in for Trapp in the midfield is Mohammed Saeid. The Swede already has 16 starts this season, 15 of those coming while Trapp was out with concussion issues. Kristinn Steindorsson fills in for Meram or Cedrick (who earned the start last weekend), while recent acquisition Jack McInerney, who already has a goal for Columbus, replaces Kamara.
In this scenario, Hector Jimenez can provide depth at either outside back or midfield position, giving Berhalter options off the bench. Aaron Schoenfeld and Ben Speas would be the likely attacking substitutes if the team needs to go more offensive later in the match.
It's also possible that Berhalter goes in a different direction.
In this lineup, Speas gets the start on the left, moving Steindorsson to the bench, allowing Berhalter to bring the winger in on either side of the midfield. Jimenez at right back would give the team a more attacking look down the right side with the potential for Barson to come off the bench and help out anywhere along the back line.
Bringing new signing Gastón Sauro in at center back is also a possibility. Berhalter said this week that Sauro is getting close and could certainly be in line for a debut against Dallas. If he gets the start - or fellow center back Emanuel Pogatetez for that matter - it allows for Wahl to move to the bench and provide depth at either center back or left back.
Of course, there is a possibility that Berhalter is even more depleted this week...
This is the worst situation for Crew SC as it involves no Federico Higuain. The attacking maestro dealt with hamstring issues last weekend in New York City and has been limited in training so far this week. As of Wednesday, he only took part in three-fourth of training.
If Pipa isn't able to go, Speas is his likely replacement. In that scenario, Steindorsson is likely the starter out wide, as Jimenez can play multiple positions off the bench. Barson would return to right back and the center backs would be some combination of the four.
No matter what lineup Berhalter puts on the field Sunday night, Crew SC will have a strong group. This speaks to the depth of the team that has been assembled that there's little worry with nine players missing out this weekend.