Warzycha has a dilemma on defense

Crew boss looks for fill-in for suspended James

Robert Warzycha and Sigi Schmid

Photo Credit: 
Otto Greule Jr - Getty Images

The last time center back Julius James was out of the Crew lineup,
manager Robert Warzycha had a natural replacement in Andy Iro, the
player who lost his starting job to James in the first place. But with
Iro now at Toronto FC after a trade on July 15, the replacement for the
suspended James ahead of this weekend’s match in Seattle won’t be an
easy fill.

James and Chad Marshall have been paired for all games, except those on
June 26 and July 2 when James was out because of an adductor strain.
Their play is a big reason Columbus’ 0.96 goals-against average is the
third-lowest in MLS.

“It’s going to be tough without Julius,” Marshall said. “He’s been huge
for us. But that being said, we have a very deep team and guys who can
play for him.”

Warzycha was not tipping his hand, but rookie Eric Gehrig is a likely
candidate. He has started three games in July as a defensive midfielder
but played central defense in a friendly vs. Newcastle United on July 26
as well as Sunday in a reserve match against Philadelphia.

“We have good players who can step in,” James said. "I’m not worried."

There are two other intriguing possibilities. Rookie Rich Balchan and
Danny O’Rourke are coming off long injury rehabs but they may not be fit
to go 90 minutes on Saturday, especially on the unforgiving turf at
CenturyLink Field.

Balchan has speed comparable to James, but O’Rourke offers the same
experience and bite as James, who is tied for the league lead in fouls
committed (44).

“He’s been a rock,” midfielder Kevin Burns said of James. “He and Chad
challenge each other so much. It will change things but just like when
we lose anyone, other guys have to step up.”

Burns could also play center back in a pinch but he has worked well in
the middle with Emmanuel Ekpo the past two games, both wins for the
Eastern Conference leaders (11-7-7, 40 points).

As far as James is concerned, caution accumulation points will force
him to miss a trip that he desperately wanted to make ahead of his
recall to the Trinidad and Tobago national team for World Cup qualifying
matches against Bermuda and Barbados in early September.

“I was really looking forward to going to Seattle and playing because
as player that’s an atmosphere you want, that feeling of the fans and
the hostile situations,” he said. “I kind of cherish those because you
get to show your true character and how much you want to fight.”