Columbus Crew SC head coach Caleb Porter will have to make the most of his minute-management skills over the next couple of weeks as the Black & Gold are set to play three Major League Soccer matches in just eight days, starting on Saturday when the team hosts the Portland Timbers at MAPFRE Stadium.
As the Crew prepares for these matchups, Porter has already confirmed that he will have some lineup changes during the stretch, granting some players opportunities to be on the field and providing others some much-needed rest.
“As far as our planning, we’ll have a plan for the three games, but we can’t look further than the next game because things change with regards to how guys feel and how the games go,” the coach said. “So we’ll have a tentative plan. We’ll tell the guys, ‘Don’t be surprised if your name is called,’ whether it’s in the second game or the third game because we’ll have some rotation. How much rotation, whether it’s three, four guys, less, more, will depend a little bit on what we see in the game.”
Porter obviously knows his roster a lot better than me, but I decided to spend some time trying to figure out what would be, in my opinion, the best way to approach the next few days. My goal is to set a competitive lineup for each of the three games, but still rotate players as much as possible – and I managed to give eight of the current starters at least one night off.
This is obviously pure speculation. It may be either worthwhile or worthless, but here are my takes:
Portland Timbers – April 20
The Crew faces Porter’s former team on Saturday at home and any team in MLS obviously wants to make the most of the matches in front of its fans. The fact that the Timbers are seriously struggling, having collected just one point in six games, all on the road, makes me believe that the Black & Gold could win this game even if they decided to rest some starters.
My first move here would be to give Jonathan Mensah, the only player in the entire roster to play all 630 minutes so far, a break. Josh Williams and Gaston Sauro have both showed they’re in good form and pairing them at the central defense should be a safe bet to make.
I would also promote some changes in midfield, taking Federico Higuain (613 minutes), Artur (602) and Pedro Santos (584) all out of the lineup. Clark would step in for the Brazilian and Justin Meram would replace the Portuguese, moving Robinho to his preferred right side. Higuain’s natural replacement should be Eduardo Sosa, but Porter doesn’t seem very high on the Venezuelan, so I’d slide Patrick Mullins up to top with Gyasi Zardes and give him some playing time. With these changes, the team would them lineup on a 4-4-2 formation.
D.C. United – April 24
This is arguably the most important match of the stretch as not only do the Black & Gold face a fellow Eastern Conference team at home, but also D.C. is at the top of the East with just a one-point advantage over the Crew.
For this game, plain and simple, I’d use the best options available. That means bringing Jonathan, Artur, Pipa and Santos all back on their natural roles and setting the team up in its traditional formation and llineup
At Houston Dynamo – April 27
The third match of such a stretch is always the toughest one, especially when it’s the only one on the road, so I’m not keeping my hopes particularly high here. After two games, recovering becomes more important than preparing since legs are already tired and there’s potentially the emotional stress of an eventual setback at home.
Porter has hinted a few times that he’ll use a three-man backline and I think this could be a good moment for him to do it. In this case, the lineup would have Jonathan, Sauro and Lalas Abubakar along the back, giving Williams some rest.
Waylon Francis could also use some rest as he played every minute of six matches and recently traveled to represent Costa Rica for the only Crew game he’s missed this year. Without a natural left back on the roster, I’d put Santos at a left wingback spot, taking advantage of the additional coverage provided by the three defenders behind him.
Clark would get his second start in three matches here, now replacing captain Wil Trapp, who would get a break. I’d also take Higuain out, as he typically struggles in a 3-5-2 formation and would instead use two quick wingers, Robinho and Niko Hansen, in a 3-4-3 system that would hopefully be good enough to absorb the Dynamo’s pressure and cause some damage on the counter.
Mullins would also start up to give Zardes a break. As a backup plan, I’d keep Higuain and Francis on the bench, making it easy to return to the usual 4-2-3-1 formation at halftime if things weren’t going well.
What do you think? Would this rotation keep the team competitive all-week long? Let us know in the comments section below!
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