There are certain matches that have a weight to them. Today’s Columbus Crew match against Philadelphia Union has that feeling and the statistics to back it up. The Union is in first place in the Major League Soccer standings and a week removed from a lopsided 5-0 victory over the second-place Toronto FC.
While Philadelphia’s last two matches look to lock up home-field advantage throughout the MLS Cup playoffs and the chance to lift the Supporters’ Shield, the Crew is in a place where the focus is getting healthy and securing as many home playoff matches as possible. The Black & Gold versus the Union is a late playoff preview and we asked who you would start if you were in Caleb Porter’s managerial shoes.
The consistency in role player injuries has required lineups that are anything but consistent. Minus Eloy Room, Porter used the lineup you chose just once this season, in the MLS is Back Tournament knockout round match against Minnesota United.
Across the board, a lineup like this makes sense. Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful have had injuries over the past year and having them start both in this week’s away matches versus the Houston Dynamo and D.C. United would be a risk. Chris Cadden and Waylon Francis made rare starts on Wednesday in the usual two fullback’s places.
Josh Williams is still not available, following his four-match suspension. He’ll be available in three days time when Columbus travels for another playoff caliber contest against Orlando City. In his place, you chose Aboubacar Keita.
Midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan along with forward Gyasi Zardes, all should be available. All of you chose those three to start. The one area where there is normally a toss up is the winger role, opposite Pedro Santos. You selected Luis Diaz to fill the role that recently has seen Derrick Etienne Jr, Emmanuel Boateng and Youness Mokhtar in its starting place.
There are no differences between who you chose and who Massive Report sees getting the start today. During media availability on Friday, Porter, Nagbe and Zardes all shared the impact of this match. It’s huge. This lineup reflects the Crew’s best group. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few areas of concern.
Injuries are by far the largest. Zelarayan and Nagbe’s limited minutes over the past two matches were by design. The long-term focus of being healthy for the playoffs is a higher priority to the Black & Gold than forcing players onto the field when the chance for injury re-aggravation is high. While even the game against the Union may not call for a full 90 minutes, the Crew should look to put its best team on the field in this playoff test. There will be no surprise if either or both are part of the five allowed substitutions in the second half.
A new starting name was added to the list of players that have missed time. Zardes suffered a minor knee injury on the final play of practice last Friday before the trip to Texas. Porter said he’d be available Sunday after his status was up in the air before the D.C. United trip on Wednesday. If he doesn’t start, Krisztian Nemeth has seen two starts in a row after just recently being traded to Columbus from Sporting Kansas City. Even if Zardes isn’t in the starting 11, he should see time on the field.
The second most difficult decision for Porter, outside of those injury returns, is the other winger position. With Zelarayan out, Porter has had the opportunity to see all of his wingers see important, starting minutes. When the four of them are at their best, Diaz shines through. Even though his goalscoring production is non-existent this year, he sparks the offense with his speed, distribution and attacking threat. With a healthy Santos, Nagbe and Zelarayan around him, that makes him even more dangerous for defenses.