Crew missing key players for match vs. Toronto FC

The Columbus Crew SC squad that is unbeaten in seven games, including five consecutive shutouts, will have a different look when Toronto FC visits Mapfre Stadium on Saturday.

Between injuries, suspensions and U.S. National team duties, the Crew (7-3-4) could have up to six starters missing against the defending MLS Cup champions, who have lost three of four and are ninth in the Eastern Conference with 3-7-1 record.

Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen and central midfielder Wil Trapp are with the U.S. for friendlies Saturday at the Republic of Ireland and June 9 at France.

They will be missed. The Crew are on a 4-0-3 run and the two anchor a defense that hasn’t allowed a goal in a club-record 495 minutes, the eighth-longest streak in MLS history.

Midfielder and orchestrator of the Crew attack Federico Higuain will serve a red-card suspension sustained in the 0-0 tie at Sporting Kansas City on Sunday and midfielder Cristian Martinez starts a two-game ban for slapping SKC’s Seth Sinovic.

While not condoning Martinez’s action, Crew coach Gregg Berhalter was unhappy with the length of the punishment, citing a one-game suspension to Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the Los Angeles Galaxy for a similar infraction. One difference is that Ibrahimovic was given a red card and Martinez went unpunished during the match.

“The inconsistency of this should be addressed, but we accept the punishment,” Berhalter said. “I would probably be happy if everyone got two games, then we wouldn’t have something like that involved in our games.”

Also, defender Jonathan Mensah (thigh) and midfielder Pedro Santos (hamstring) are questionable for the Crew. What is known is that Jon Kempin will make his second start this season for Steffen.

“The message to the group this week was it’s going to be a week where we need to dig with everyone,” Berhalter said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck. We’re missing a couple of guys through injury and suspension. We have to regroup and the next guy has to perform.”

Toronto is quite familiar with injuries with such notables as U.S. forward Jozy Altidore (foot) and defenders Drew Moor (quadriceps strain) and Ashtone Morgan (hamstring) out for the Columbus match.

On the positive side, goalkeeper Alex Bono returns from making his debut for the U.S. in a 3-0 win over Bolivia on Monday. He missed Toronto’s 1-0 loss to FC Dallas on May 25.

Despite the injuries, Toronto remains upbeat there won’t be a repeat of the 2-0 loss to the visiting Crew in the March 3 season opener.

“They’re a team that will feel confident they can keep us off the score sheet, but with the players we have, we believe that nobody can do that on a consistent basis,” Toronto FC defender Eriq Zavaleta said. “We’ll go in to win the game.

“They’re a team that hasn’t given up a ton of goals this year. We’re going to have to be diligent and precise about the chances we take.”