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Crew’s depth being tested with injury list growing

Caleb Porter is starting to run thin of options at key positions.

MLS: D.C. United at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It was only 20 minutes prior to the start of Saturday’s matchup between Columbus Crew SC and Los Angeles Football Club that presumed starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen and left back Waylon Francis were not named to the team’s starting 11. Pregame was when Steffen came out and greeted fans in the tunnel while in a walking boot on his right foot.

“It was strange,” said Crew head coach Caleb Porter after the game. “Zack did the recovery session on Thursday and he said his foot got sore as the day went on. He came in Friday to see the trainers and his foot was swollen.”

Porter went on to say that he believes the injury stems from the result of a late knock from Wednesday’s 3-1 win against LA Galaxy.

Backup goalkeeper Joe Bendik made his second start of the season, replacing the injured Steffen. Porter decided to give the start at right back to Josh Williams, replacing Francis who was dealing with a muscle strain, with Hector Jimenez on the left.

“We basically did a 20-minute training session on Friday and (Francis) felt a strain in his muscles warming up,” Porter said. “I knew I would go with (virtually) the same group to get the best chance to win and I’m pleased with the decision.”

Steffen and Francis join defenders Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful on the injury list, with a torn ACL and a broken jaw respectively. An addition of two more names to the list, exactly how do these losses affect the team moving forward?

Following a stretch of three games in eight days, the Crew find themselves preparing for a two-game Western Conference road stand with an international break looming. Replacing players like Steffen, Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes and maybe even new addition David Guzman will be yet another hurdle Porter will have to overcome with the Gold Cup on the horizon, not to mention the upcoming transfer of Steffen to Manchester City.

“The schedule is the schedule,” Porter said. “Everyone plays 17 home games and 17 away games. No excuses, we have to find ways to get points. It’s a bottom-line business so we have to get points.”

Porter said that Steffen will be reevaluated during the week and that Francis will be out for about 2-3 weeks. Afful is still some weeks away recovering from the broken jaw — although he did have the wires holding his mouth shut removed and took part in jogging during Tuesday’s training — and Valenzuela tore his ACL in preseason training. This stacked-up list sees the team short at the fullback positions, leaving Hector Jimenez and reserve Conner Maloney as the only true fullbacks left at Porter’s disposal.

“We focus on each game as it comes. It’s been a grind and I think the last three weeks there has been improvement,” Porter said Tuesday at practice.

The Crew are dealing with a rather unlucky stretch at the moment with so many crucial injuries and absences at such a crucial time. It’s going to be interesting to see how the team responds to this stretch of adversity that could go into defining their season.