Crew View: Columbus in good shape

Deep Crew bench a huge plus as the team approaches a busy period.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The good news is that the Crew are in good shape and are getting better heading into the congested part of the schedule.

The bad news, though, is that between the July 31 match at Chivas USA through Sept. 4, Columbus will play six times in MLS, face two CONCACAF Champions League games and a US Open Cup semifinal. Six of those nine matches will be on the road, including an Aug. 24 game in Trinidad & Tobago against San Juan Jabloteh.

WATCH: MATCH HIGHLIGHTS: CLB 3, HOU 0

Thankfully for the Eastern Conference leaders, they have even more confidence in their bench after the team’s 3-0 victory over Houston on Saturday. Rookie defender Shaun Francis got his first start against the Dynamo and midfielder Leandre Griffit scored shortly after entering in his debut, showing the depth of the Crew roster.

“It’s a testament to the squad and we keep getting stronger,” defender Andy Iro said. “Come August, we’re really going to need it.”

Playing extra games can drain a team, but they also provide outlets for players frustrated by their lack of playing time.

“Guys want to play, and they definitely want to play in the big games. And, if it’s physically possible, play in every game,” Iro said.

To that end, here are the top three players who are chafing to play:

1. Jason Garey – He won the starting striker role from Steven Lenhart, but then lost it to Emilio Renteria, who has started and scored in the past two matches. Renteria has four goals in 435 minutes, while Garey and Lenhart each have one in 533 and 936 minutes, respectively.

2. Gino Padula – The 23 year-old Francis is 11 years younger and quicker than the veteran left back and went from playing 33 minutes in his first MLS game on July 17 to going the full 90 a week later. Padula’s savvy will come in handy at crunch time, but Francis is the Crew’s defender of the future.

3. Dilly Duka – It can’t be easy for the eighth overall pick of the 2010 SuperDraft to see Francis (63rd selection) gain the field while he has only appeared in a couple of USOC games. To be fair to Duka, who sprained his right ankle last week, the Crew’s talented midfield is not only deep, it’s also versatile. The team is two deep ahead of Duka at every spot he can play, while Francis is the only other natural left back.

A Number of Things

1. Francis was the first Crew rookie to start an MLS game since Alex Grendi in the second game of the 2009 season.

2. William Hesmer’s eight shutouts are two shy of the team record. There are 13 games left in the season, plenty of time for Hesmer and the league’s second stingiest defense to top that.