If you were at the game this past Saturday when Columbus Crew SC defeated reigning MLS Cup Champions Atlanta United FC, then you endured a scary sight when defender Harrison Afful was helped off the field. Afful collided with center back Jonathan Mensah and remained down around the 27th minute mark. The fullback remained down and was looked at by the medical staff before slowly walking off the field with a bloody rag to his mouth.
Afful did not return to the game. In the 31st minute, just after the weather delay, Afful was taken off and replaced by Hector Jimenez to finish the duration of the match.
On Tuesday, it was revealed that the Ghanaian defender suffered a fractured jaw.
“Harry has a fractured jaw,” said head coach Caleb Porter.
“As you know with fractured jaws, they wire your jaw shut, so he’ll have his wired shut for a period of four to five weeks. Then from there, it will be a matter of his fitness and nutrition. We don’t have a clear timeline of his return to play.”
Afful has started all five matches this season, recording 391 minutes of play prior to his injury. Up until coming out of the match, Afful had played every minute for the Black & Gold in 2019, something he’s become accustomed to over his Crew career.
Without Afful for some time, Porter and Columbus will turn to veteran Hector Jimenez, who has played at both fullback spots and either winger roles in his his time with the Black & Gold.
“We have a squad, and it opens up an opportunity for Hector,” Porter went on to say.
Of course, this is not the first time this season the Crew has lost a fullback for an extended period of time. Columbus are without left back Milton Valenzuela for the season after he tore his ACL early in preseason. In order to accommodate the absence, Columbus brought back Waylon Francis from the Seattle Sounders.
With Francis at left back, its only fitting Jimenez gets the nod at right back. According to the head, their best game he’s seen his team play since taking over for Gregg Berhalter in January was the final preseason game against FC Cincinnati.
Jimenez has featured in all but one of the Black & Gold five games this season. He came off the bench against the New England Revolution, recording an assist just minutes after being on the field, and also made a substitute appearance versus FC Dallas. Jimenez’s lone start came two weeks ago at the Philadelphia Union at left back when Francis was away on international duty with Costa Rica.
Although he has made appearances in matches, his time to shine is now as he has “been in the wings waiting,” as Porter mentioned.
Could Columbus bring in another back to give a little more depth if another significant injury happens? Porter does not seem to keen on bringing in another player. Although it’s a different situation from Valenzuela, “we have to get by during the period. We’re confident in Hector and we have Connor Maloney also. Josh Williams has played a little bit at right back,” the head coach said.
“We have some options. We’re confident we can get through it.”
Columbus host the New England Revolution Saturday April 6 in their second and final meeting of the regular season.