Injuries happen; it's just the nature of sports. Teams hope that the timing of these injuries don't coincide with other issues.
For Columbus Crew SC, a handful of injuries have occurred a pretty bad time.
"Do we have three defenders?" Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter asked with a laugh when discussing his potential lineup for the Black & Gold's game with the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday night.
The crisis began when center back Tyson Wahl picked up a concussion in Columbus' friendly match with Mexican side Veracruz. Initially, the thought was Wahl would return after a game or so, but was left out of last weekend's 4-3 victory over Real Salt Lake as symptoms creeped back up towards the end of the week.
The defender left Tuesday's training session, the last before Columbus departs for Philadelphia, in street clothes and told me that he's close but still dealing with the concussion symptoms.
Wahl's head problems wouldn't be so impactful if starting center back Gaston Sauro were healthy. The Argentinian, who has already dealt with a couple injuries this year, went down in the 31st minute of Crew SC's 0-0 draw with Toronto FC two weeks ago and scans revealed torn posterior cruciate ligament that will keep the defender out four to five months following surgery.
Last Saturday, rookie center midfielder Rodrigo Saravia stepped in along the back line, doing a pretty good job in his first start at the position according to his head coach, but will miss this game as he was called into the Guatemalan national team for an international friendly.
Right back Harrison Afful will also miss the match, his second consecutive, as he is with the Ghanian national team. This leaves the Crew SC back line very thin.
"We’re going to go with no defenders. More midfielders," Berhalter joked on Monday. "Last week we had to put a midfielder back there so I don’t think we can go five in the back. Maybe three in the back and with wing backs, we’ll see. I don’t know."
The defense is not the only position group affected by injuries and national team call ups. Midfielder Emil Larsen was called into the Danish U23 team. He will take part in friendlies in hopes of making the team that will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
"For us, there’s a fine line between being really supportive of your players and wanting them to take part in the that stuff," Berhalter said of the call ups. "But this is a FIFA window so we have very little to do with that. In Emli’s case, it was a little bit different where he’s with the Olympic group so we didn’t have to let him go. But if we can boost him and give him confidence and somehow elevate him to where he can contribute more on the field, we’re willing to do that."
Midfielder Tony Tchani, who hasn't featured for the Black & Gold since an April 30 loss to the Seattle Sounders while dealing with a calf strain, was back in training this week and Berhalter said on Tuesday that he was full go. Berhalter also stated that Tchani's game fitness would be an issue, indicating he is likely to only see time off the bench for Crew SC.
With winger Cedrick Mabwati also away on international duty, Berhalter brought midfielder Ben Swanson back from the club's affiliate, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The second-year player is yet to play a competitive match for Columbus, but that could change on Wednesday.
"Numbers," Berhalter said of the reasoning for keeping Swanson in Columbus. "Just seeing if Tony’s ready, see Rodrigo, what his story is. Benny may have to play a role in this game."
With only 17 rostered players available, including a reserve goalkeeper, Berhalter will be limited in what he can do with his lineup and substitutions come Wednesday night.
Available Crew SC players: Goalkeepers - Steve Clark, Brad Stuver; Defenders - Michael Parkhurst, Chad Barson, Corey Ashe, Waylon Francis, Hector Jimenez; Midfielders - Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Wil Trapp, Mohammed Saeid, Tony Tchani, Ben Swanson, Cristian Martinez; Forwards - Ola Kamara, Conor Casey