Iro expected to become a leader at Crew

Towering defender among few Columbus veterans on new-look roster

OBETZ, Ohio – At 6-foot-5, Andy Iro is not one to shrink into the background. But during his first three seasons with the Columbus Crew, he rarely needed to provide the type of leadership seen from the many veterans around him.

That changed in the offseason with the departures of captain Frankie Hejduk, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Duncan Oughton, Gino Padula and others.

When the team took to the frozen tundra of Crew Stadium on Tuesday for the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, Iro was surrounded by new faces, especially in the absence of his injured center back partner Chad Marshall.

At right back was Sebastian Miranda, and though at 31 years old he's no newbie, it was the Chilean's first game for the Crew.

Iro was paired with rookie Rich Balchan in the middle, while converted midfielder Josh Gardner was at left back in his first game for an MLS club since 2005. In goal was Ray Burse, who last played for FC Dallas in 2009, and rookie Cole Grossman was the defensive midfielder.

With so much at stake against Real Salt Lake, coach Robert Warzycha made Iro captain for the match.

“Being my first professional captaincy, it was a very proud moment,” Iro said. “Anytime you wear the captain’s armband for anyone, it signals that you’ve done something right and signals that the players look to you for some guidance or words of confidence on the field.”

Warzycha said Iro must be one of the returnees that takes ownership of the locker room.

“He has leadership qualities,” Warzycha. “He showed that in the game Tuesday.  If you look at the back line, it was really important to have someone take charge of it. He had to be that guy. He had no choice.”

That the underdog Crew limited RSL to no shots on goal in the 0-0 draw would point to Iro’s influence, but he deferred credit.

“It’s not that difficult when guys listen and they’re smart,” he said. “You really don’t have to tell these guys too many times where to go. They just get it.

“Sebastian is obviously experienced. I don’t even have to say much to him and he’ll get it anyway,” Iro added. “As for the rookies, they’re smart guys. What it was really about Tuesday was calming them down because they were really nervous their first game.”

The players will decide on captain’s later but even if Iro is not chosen, Warzycha expects big things out of the Liverpool, England, native.

“You’re a leader because you’re saying the right things on the field or you’re a leader because of your performance,” he said. “With Andy he can perform very well and help because he is vocal.”

<p><em><strong>Check out the Feb. 24 edition of the <a href="http://www.mlssoccer.com/extratime" target="_blank">ExtraTime Radio podcast</a>, featuring D.C. United's Charlie Davies, </strong></em><strong><em>Real Salt Lake's Nick Rimando and league executive Nelson Rodriguez</em></strong> <em><strong>talking about the new playoff structure.</strong></em></p>
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