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Lineup breakdown: Rested Crew ready to go against FC Cincinnati

A look at the Black & Gold’s lineup in tonight’s Hell is Real game.

MLS: Nashville SC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew is a motivated team on this Wednesday night. After losing at home for the first time all year last week, 2-1 to the Montreal Impact, the Crew had an unplanned weekend off due to two positive COVID-19 tests to staff members, and want to get back on the field to wash the bad taste out of the player and coaches mouths.

This motivation is obvious in the lineup put out by head coach Caleb Porter for tonight’s match against Cincinnati. The Black & Gold will deploy about as strong of a starting 11 as possible, given the numerous injuries to key players.

Making his second straight start at goalkeeper for the Crew is Andrew Tarbell. Tarbell is in for Eloy Room who left the Oct. 3 game against FC Dallas with an injury. Porter indicated that Room’s injury was not serious and should be back soon, which could make the goalkeeper available as soon as Sunday’s match against New York City FC.

The backline for Columbus is largely normal. The exception is a start for Aboubacar Keita, just his fifth of the season and first since mid-September against Nashville SC. Despite the time off, Keita steps in for Josh Williams, which is expected to be just for rest purposes and to get the second-year pro a game. Alongside Keita is captain Jonathan Mensah at center back, Harrison Afful at right fullback and Milton Valenzuela on the left.

In the midfield, the Black & Gold receive some good news with the return of central midfielder Fatai Alashe. The former FC Cincinnati player partners Artur in the center of the park for the first time since he left the 2-1 win against Minnesota United after just 19 minutes with an injury of his own. While rookies Sebastian Berhalter and Aidan Morris played well in the position over the last three contests, Alashe brings a more veteran presence a bit more familiarity next to the Brazilian.

Normal starter Darlington Nagbe continues to work his way back from a knee injury that has kept the Ohio native out longer than expected. After initially thought to be a knee bruise, Nagbe had his knee scoped and has not played for the Crew since the last meeting with Cincinnati over a month ago. Like Room, Nagbe is recovering and Columbus expects to have the dynamic midfielder back in the lineup soon.

With Lucas Zelarayan remaining out for a while longer, it is Pedro Santos again playing in the No. 10 role. While no player can replace Zelarayan completely, Santos has done a good job these last 135 minutes. Despite the loss to Montreal, Santos was the most active player in the Crew’s attack and seemed the most likely to make something happen. He will need to play that way again, and get help from his teammates to break down a compact FC Cincinnati defense.

On either side of Santos are wingers Luiz Diaz and Emmanuel Boateng. Lining up on his familiar right side, Diaz makes his seventh straight start and 12th overall this season. He will hope to find the form from the last time these two sides met when he recorded the second of his two assists on the year. Boateng gets the start over Youness Mokhtar, who played from the opening kickoff in the last two games, and Derrick Etienne Jr. This is the first start for Boateng since coming to the Crew from D.C. United in mid-August.

Up top is the familiar face of Gyasi Zardes. Despite getting credited with the lone finish against the Impact last week, Zardes has not been as dangerous in front of goal of late, with that accidental deflection as his only score in the last four outings. Like Santos, Zardes will want to be better today against Cincinnati.

With Tarbell starting, Matt Lampson remains the second-choice goalkeeper available off the bench against Cincinnati. Although unlikely to see the field, Williams is on the bench as a center back option. At fullbacks, the Crew has Hector Jimenez and Chris Cadden ready to substitute in if necessary. Berhalter and Morris both can step in at either central midfield spot and Etienne and Mokhtar are available to change things up on the wings. With the recently acquired Krisztian Nemeth still awaiting work visas and his mandated quarantine, it is Fandendo Adi once again backing up Zardes.