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Columbus Crew SC are getting healthy for final playoff push

The Black & Gold return from the international break in fairly good health.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

When Columbus Crew SC returned from the international break in late July, the team was more injured than before the layoff.

Playmaking midfielder Federico Higuain was out with a knee issue that cost him six matches and winger Niko Hansen took a bit longer to recover from hernia surgery than expected.

This time around, the Black & Gold are fairly healthy. In fact, the only member of the team dealing a major medical issue is head coach Gregg Berhalter who had a knee scope last week.

“I was limited,” Berhalter jokingly updated his status. “I was purely limited minus.”

Higuain, who returned to the lineup for the final two games before the break, remains healthy and according to Berhalter, his knee is progressing the way the medical staff expects it to.

Forward Ola Kamara, who scored his 13th and 14th goal of the season in the last two matches, was dealing with “some leg pain” and had his lower left leg wrapped last week, but was back to full when the team regrouped on Tuesday.

“He was full in training today,” Berhalter said of Kamara. “He was dealing with a little pain and hopefully we’ll get him by game time ready to go.”

Left back Waylon Francis left the Aug. 23 game against LA Galaxy with hamstring strain and missed the Aug. 26 match with FC Dallas. During the portion of Crew SC practice open to the media on Tuesday, Francis was working off to the side on fitness.

“He was limited plus,” Berhalter updated on the left back. “He was in a number of exercises, he wasn’t full in training. We expect him to be full by the end of the week.”

Players away on international duty -- Justin Meram, Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful — will be evaluated when they return, but all are expected to be fit when arriving back in Columbus giving the team a nearly clean bill of health.

The Black & Gold return to action on Sunday when Sporting Kansas City comes to MAPFRE Stadium. This match marks the final of a three-game homestand in which Crew SC has won the first two contests.

It also marks the beginning of the final push for the MLS playoffs. Columbus has six matches remaining and currently sits in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

With all of the teams below the Black & Gold holding at least one game in hand, having a healthy group over this final month and a half of the season will be crucial for Crew SC to make the postseason and the week off certainly helped in that aspect.

“I think it’s been great,” Berhalter said. “You can make case for momentum or this or that, but for me it was guys recovering and guys healing and guys getting ready for the six-game stretch. Because it’s an important six games.

We’re going once a week from here on in with one exception where we have a break and it’s exciting. I think we’re in a decent position, but we’re not in a safe position and our job over the next six games is to get into a better position than we are now.”