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Mike Grella, Gaston Sauro are set to return to game action on Sunday

The recovering duo will play in their first scrimmage this weekend.

It’s been a long time since Columbus Crew SC midfielder Mike Grella saw any sort of game action. For center back Gaston Sauro, it’s been even longer.

The Black & Gold winger last stepped onto the playing field in Major League Soccer action on June 3, 2017 as a member of the New York Red Bulls. For Sauro’s last game, Crew SC fans have to go back to Oct. 1, 2016.

Both players suffered severe knee injuries and dealt with complications that prolonged their recovery. It hasn’t been an easy process to return, but both resumed full training together on April 2.

After nearly three full weeks of being back to a more regular practice routine, the two will step back into game action this weekend, at least in an unofficial capacity.

“We hope to get them in action on Sunday. We have a little scrimmage game,” head coach Gregg Berhalter updated this week.

The Black & Gold will scrimmage the University of Louisville on Sunday morning. The scrimmage is closed to the public.

Although this is not uncommon at this point in the season, when Crew SC likes to get the reserve players action competing against college teams still in spring practice, this scrimmage will have a special feel with Grella and Sauro making their unofficial return.

“When we’re planning their rehab, part of it is playing in a scrimmage,” Berhalter said. “So we planned this scrimmage for them and we wanted to get them to a certain point by that time, and they’re there.”

In early April, Berhalter reiterated that the club would not rush either player back, wanting them to be 100 percent healthy before returning to play. He also said that once they were no longer limited, the two would need to play in an exhibition game before thinking about an MLS match.

This is what Sunday will be. “That will be one of the final steps,” Berhalter said.

The return of these two could not come at a better time. Crew SC has lost three consecutive games after going unbeaten in the first four contests of the year.

In the last two matches, Columbus has failed to score, despite generating plenty of opportunities and Grella, who has 16 career MLS goals and 13 assists, could provide a spark offensively. Sauro could also help out a defense that, while not allowing many chances, has conceded four goals on the last 15 shots by the opponent.

Although these two likely won’t be back on the MLS field just yet, as they continue to build match fitness, knowing that they are available for selection could help push the players in front of them that much more.

Their return could also be a nice morale boost for the team.

As for Sunday’s scrimmage, Berhalter will just be glad to see both Sauro and Grella back on the field after such a grueling and lengthy recovery.

“I hope we get a shutout and (Gaston) wins every single tackle, and Mikey, I hope he scores four goals,” Berhalter joked.

“For them, to be honest, I want them to feel a game again. Gaston, it has been 18 months. And this guy deserves all the credit in the world for his attitude and his mindset. Eighteen months, put that in perspective. You can’t do your job for 18 months, and now you’re able to do it again. So for him, I just want him to feel the game, breathe the game, see what it gives him. And then for Mikey, he’s been out less so, but he’s worked hard and he’s had his own obstacles and I just want him feeling confident again.”