For the third time this season, Columbus Crew SC is in the middle of a stretch of three games in eight days. Tonight, the Black & Gold travel to Real Salt Lake before coming back home to take on the Seattle Sounders on Saturday. Last Saturday, the team fell to Orlando City 2-0 at home.
These quick turnarounds hold different meanings considering almost the entire current starting lineup was considered backups at the beginning of the season. With recent new signings, head coach Caleb Porter is beginning to develop the depth he desires, though it still is not up to the standard he strives for.
However, Porter sees this slew of games as an opportunity to introduce some new faces to the pitch. He told Massive Report that Wednesday would be the first opportunity for Homegrown defender Aboubacar Keita to see playing time at just 19 years old.
Keita had an impressive performance in the recent Under-20 World Cup, starting in all five matches in the tournament. He has made the 18-man game day roster for each of the last four Crew games but has yet to see the pitch.
Porter also indicated that because Keita would play in some capacity, the rest of the lineup would be chosen with that in mind.
“If we’re going to play Bouba, we’ve got to surround him with some experienced guys to kind of help, otherwise it’s throwing him in the deep end,” said the coach.
With the two stretches the team has already gone through, Porter is able to look at the results and make his lineup decisions based slightly on that. He does not regret how he went about those first two groups of games, saying “You only know what you know when you know it.”
In this stretch, Porter is looking at a number of factors in order to establish a lineup.
“I think in this (window), the biggest factor is the road game, mid-week, non-conference,” said Porter. Though with the loss against Orlando, there is more of a drive to snag some points in Salt Lake City.
Porter’s approach to this stretch mirrors his approach to his team as a whole. His goal is for there to be no drop off between players, allowing rotation to be seamless. If that is the case, then quick turnarounds such as the ones they face this week become less of an issue. However, with so many missing starters, that drop off becomes more significant.
“I also think we have a bunch of guys gone,” said Porter. “So in my opinion, in probably four or five spots, there’s not much change or difference, so there’s no reason not to rotate, and yet we have to build some stability in the team.”
Players feel confident in the talent they have on the pitch and their ability to finish the season strong. Their focus now is pushing their way above that playoff line.
Midfielder Pedro Santos said the team is going to fight for three points in this stretch.
“I feel everybody’s confidence for this stretch,” said Santos. “We are prepared for the game (tonight) and for sure we will be prepared for the Saturday game too.”
The Black and Gold kick off against Real Salt Lake at 10 p.m. ET on Wednesday night.