Over the last couple of weeks, Columbus Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter praised his team's depth. Fans saw it first hand when Cedrick Mabwati came off the bench in a mid-week game against New York City FC to score a late equalizer and then three days later Jack McInerney scored a very late winner as a substitute in a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City.
Berhalter stressed that it's not just the guys getting on the field, but the players who push every day, who aren't consistently making the 18-man roster, but continue to work hard and force those that are to work harder.
In a week where Crew SC are missing nine players due to international call ups, this depth is going to be tested.
"I think what's been happening is guys have known that they have a role to play and it's fulfilling that role," Berhalter said on Tuesday. "And if you look at the last couple of weeks, we've certainly been doing that. If you look at the substitutes, the impact they've made, and I've talked about the effort of the entire group has been there. So we want to look at this thing as an entire group and if it's another person's chance in that group, we'll be fine."
Despite missing five regular starters and other players who provide depth, Berhalter said it's business as usual at the Black & Gold's EAS Training Center.
"We plan the same way we plan every week," the head coach explained. "As far as we're concerned, this is our group. The numbers are a little bit smaller obviously, but you can work more closely with the players. For us it's fine."
On Sunday, Columbus takes on FC Dallas, a team that will be without five of its own players due to the call ups including leading scorer Fabian Castillo, and the loss of players like forward Kei Kamara, midfielder Wil Trapp, and outside backs Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful will be felt. Despite that, Berhalter is confident his team can deal with it and succeed.
"I think collectively we'll feel the impact," he admitted. "But like I've been saying, it's about the entire group. It's about guys working hard whether they're in the starting 11, the 18, or even on the bench. Now it's a chance for new guys and I think it's a great opportunity."
For players like Kristinn Steindorsson, Mohammed Saeid, Hector Jimenez, Chris Klute, and Chad Barson, it's a chance to get back on the field after playing a role earlier in the season. For a guy like Ben Speas, it could be about seizing an opportunity that doesn't come around all that often.
Berhalter stated before that players will get opportunities with this club. With the way Crew SC has played of late, two losses in its last 13 matches, it's been hard to mess with the lineup too much.
Now is the chance for these guys, who have been working hard week in and week out. There are minutes available and a chance for a reward for that hard work other than watching their teammates succeed.
"I don't think it's about this week, I honestly don't," Berhalter said. "I think it's about these last couple of months and the guys who've worked their way into the starting group, worked their way into the 18 and the attitude they've had in training and how they've been pushing everyone has been. It's been fantastic and that's what it's about. It's not about this week."