As Crew peak, Duka seeing benefit to missing Olympics

Winger leading Columbus attack while missing London games

Dilly Duka

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OBETZ, Ohio – Although Dilly Duka is focused on the Columbus Crew’s match on Saturday at D.C. United (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), he couldn’t help but let his mind wander to action across the pond earlier in the week.

The Crew’s third-year midfielder watched on television as the Honduran Olympic team upset Spain and later advanced to the knockout round and thought, “That could have been us.”

By “us” he means the US Under-23 team that failed to qualify for the London Olympics after being eliminated in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in March.

Duka will never know if he would have made a difference because he strained his left hamstring in the MLS season opener March 10 at Colorado and was unable to play for the Americans.

The US were moments away from qualifying out of the group stage, but allowed a tying goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time to El Salvador in their group finale. Honduras and Mexico eventually earned the tickets to the London Olympics.

“It definitely hurts because that’s my age group and I was part of the mix with the US,” Duka said.

For selfish reasons, the Crew are happy that Duka is with them right now. After recovering from a second hamstring injury, he returned to help Columbus to victories in the past two matches with creativity that had been missing from the attack.

Another factor in the Crew’s success is the fact they have fielded the same lineup for both wins, a rarity in this injury-filled season that has seen an average of eight players sidelined per match.

“When you have consistency in the lineup every game, especially when you’re winning, the confidence is built,” Duka said.

Head coach Robert Warzycha likes his winning combination.

“Finally, we have some stability,” he said. “They’re getting fitter and the guys are playing better. That’s why there’s no reason to do too many things.”

However, there will be at least one change because midfielder Cole Grossman will serve a one-game suspension for a red card against Sporting Kansas City.

That could open the way for the return of Milovan Mirosevic, out the past three games due to an adductor strain. Mirosevic admitted last week he was wary of re-injury after suffering the same injury twice this season, but on Thursday he told MLSsoccer.com that he’s fit.

“I’ve had a whole week of training sessions. I feel ready to play,” he said. “The danger time is over I think.”

Warzycha said Friday that either Mirosevic or Danny O’Rourke, who has not played since June 30 because of an ankle injury, would replace Grossman.

If O’Rourke starts it could be a straight swap with him and Chris Birchall lining up behind Duka, Eddie Gaven and Justin Meram in the midfield with Jairo Arrieta, the reigning MLS Player of the Week after scoring twice at Sporting Kansas City, as the lone striker.

A Mirosevic start might put him underneath Arrieta in a reconfigured formation.