Merz: Five Questions for Columbus Crew

Crew have a few things to consider during the World Cup break

COLUMBUS – Despite a 6-2-3 record, the Crew still have questions to ponder about during the World Cup break.

1. What to do with Sergio Herrera?

When he was signed in February, the Colombian was hailed as an answer to the scoring problems that plagued the Crew in 2009. But he has played only one minute and didn’t make the 18-man roster for the last game at Colorado.

His reported salary of near $200,000 is a major problem, but he’s not the only acquisition sitting. French midfielder Leandre Griffit has trained with the club since late March and was signed May 13 but has yet to play.

That means there’s more than $225,000 of talent not being used.

Griffit’s attacking style and creativity may be what the Crew need to shake their offensive doldrums. He’ll play sooner rather than later, but there’s no reason to keep Herrera if he’s not in a regular rotation.

2. Anyone see the rookies lately?

You wouldn’t if you looked on the field. While many clubs, including league leader Los Angeles, are not afraid to test the kids, it’s been 36 regular season and playoff games since the Crew used a first-year player.

Midfielder Dilly Duka could be part of the next wave of new blood Yanks vying for a World Cup spot in four years, but his progress has been stymied. Defender Shaun Francis was hampered early by an ankle sprain but he and midfielder Othaniel Yanez have gathered dust. Add third-year midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo to the mix for his meandering play as a reserve and you’ve got a cast for the sequel to “Lost.”

Coach Robert Warzycha said the bench will get plenty of work because of the busy schedule with the U.S. Open Cup and Champions League.

Here’s the conundrum: If there is going to be more emphasis on winning the Open Cup this year after losing its first match to Rochester last season, can Warzycha really afford to throw unproven players into the tournament later this month?

And, how can they contribute in the Champions League if they’re not playing on a semi-regular basis?

3. Will Guillermo Barros Schelotto hold up through the long season?

In each of the past two years he was lost for periods with injuries.

Last year he missed four matches beginning July 18 with a left hamstring strain that bothered him to a degree the rest of the way. In 2008, he sat three games from Sept. 13-27 with a hamstring strain.

He leads the club with four goals but the past two have been via penalties since he last scored from open play in the second game on April 10. Even that’s misleading. His goal against FC Dallas came on a rebound after he missed a penalty kick.

Despite turning 37 last month he is third on the team in minutes and the only game he has missed was when he suspended for the May 20 match at New York.

The Crew are 9-1-1 with a 21-7 goal advantage when he doesn’t play since the start of the 2008 season.

It’s a stat that has caught the attention of management.

4. Are there ever enough defenders?

Nope. Frankie Hejduk (hamstring strain) and Danny O’Rourke (quadriceps strain) hope to be healthy when play resumes June 26 vs. D.C. United.

Eric Brunner, Chad Marshall, Gino Padula and Jed Zayner have missed games because of injuries. Six defenders have at least five starts and Zayner has three starts among seven appearances.

The instability has been exposed in the past three matches.

5. Will the Crew win a record third straight Supporters’ Shield?

It won’t be easy.

Los Angeles (10-1-2) have built an 11-point lead, although the Crew have two games in hand.

The Crew’s best chance is to continue to feast on the East (4-0) and hope the Western Conference teams devour each other.

<p><em><strong>Join the Debate! MLSsoccer.com's "<a href="http://mls.neulion.com/mlsvp/console.jsp?catid=1916&amp;id=6048" target="_blank">ExtraTime Radio</a></strong><strong>" is LIVE every day during the World Cup, 5-7 pm ET. Call in at 888-MLS-GOAL.</strong></em></p>