When Columbus Crew SC took to the field last Saturday in the 2-0 loss to Los Angeles Football Club, the Black & Gold did so without multiple key pieces. Starting goalkeeper Zack Steffen and center back Josh Williams both missed out on the match due to injury.
Steffen has been a rock behind the Columbus backline this year, allowing just 11 goals in 14 games played. His seven shutouts are tied for the most in Major League Soccer and the only time, prior to Saturday, that Steffen had missed for Crew SC since being named the starter prior to last year was when he was on duty with the U.S. National Team.
But on Thursday of last week, Steffen left training with a knee injury. At the time head coach Gregg Berhalter said he would receive an MRI on Friday, but would not travel with the team to LA for the game. On Monday, the first time Berhalter spoke with the local media since the injury, the head coach provided an update on his goalkeeper.
“He had a knee operation, meniscus, and he should be out a week or two,” Berhalter said of Steffen.
By that timetable, it would logically mean the 23 year old would miss Saturday’s home match against Real Salt Lake and be back in time for the road game against the LA Galaxy a week later, but Berhalter was not willing to commit to that, saying Steffen’s status for the July 7 trip to LA was to be determined.
Steffen was not only player to miss the game at LAFC this weekend. Williams was also absent from the game day squad after being a regular for most of the season. It turns out Williams was dealing with a concussion and was out for Saturday’s game.
According to Berhalter, Williams’ return is closer than that of his goalkeeper.
“Josh is back in limited training,” he said on Monday.
While it’s clear Steffen will miss Saturday’s contest, Williams’ status is uncertain.
Another player who will certainly be out for the game against Real is Milton Valenzuela. The left back picked up a yellow card in the 69th minute of the match against LAFC giving him five on the year. This means the defender is suspended for the game against Salt Lake.
Valenzuela has played in 17 of the team’s 18 matches this year, starting 16, and the 19 year old’s play has been a pleasant surprise after he was loaned to Crew SC from Newell’s Old Boys in the offseason. Normally a one-game suspension wouldn’t merit much discussion, but Berhalter had some news on the Argentine during this week.
“We’re actually going to send him back home,” Berhalter updated. “He’s a 19 year old, away from his family for the first time and now’s a perfect time to give him a mental break. I think he’s done a great job this half of the year, but we still have to consider the fact that he’s 19 years old and anything we can do to help him stay at his highest level, we’re willing to do.”
Berhalter said the team will give Valenzuela a maintenance program to keep his fitness high while he’s back in Argentina, but the coach wants to make sure he gets time to see his family and enjoy being back in his native country given he is not available for the Black & Gold. Valenzuela was still with the team on Monday, but will depart early in the week and return Sunday.