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Predicited XI: Nashville SC - MLS Cup playoffs

How will the Crew line up against Nashville.

SOCCER: SEP 19 MLS - Nashville SC at Columbus Crew Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Just as the playoff gods seemed to bless the Columbus Crew with a favorable Eastern Conference semifinal matchup when Nashville SC upset Toronto FC, the COVID-19 gods blight the Black & Gold with lineup uncertainty. As he prepares his team for Nashville, head coach Caleb Porter must do so without two regular starters and several key depth pieces due to positive COVID-19 tests.

In a season rife with injuries, an altered and condensed schedule and new faces in the lineup, predicting a starting XI was becoming next to impossible in 2020. With news breaking late this week that six total Crew players testing positive for COVID-19, matters only got more uncertain.

Just as Porter is able to put out a consistent lineup for more than two games in a row for the first time this season, the Crew lose the team’s starting goalkeeper and right midfielder for the conference semifinal. In anticipation for what should be an exciting playoff matchup with one of MLS’s newest teams, let’s look at how you, the supporters, chose to line up, noting you did not know of the unavailable players when casting your vote.

Supporter’s XI

Obviously, many of you voted before news broke of both Room and Etienne‘s positive COVID-19 tests, as they both got overwhelming starting nods. It’s easy to understand the usual names in the lineup, as the Crew has sent out a very consistent side as of late. There are no major changes in voting beyond a few late-arriving votes for Andrew Tarbell and Luis Diaz. Otherwise, the Supporter’s XI mirrors what Porter is most likely anticipated to would send out tonight.

Predicted XI

At the time of this writing, there have been no further announcements of players unable to play in this game. In 2020, that could change two more times before kickoff. That being said, barring any other issues, it should be fairly easy to predict the majority of the Crew’s starting lineup. Backup keeper Andrew Tarbell starts in place of Eloy Room. The back four is unchanged. Even after some lackluster play, Porter will most likely stay with Harrison Afful at right back for consistency’s sake.

Artur and Darlington Nagbe are the obvious defensive midfield choice. They will be a crucial first line of defense and Nagbe will need to help keep possession throughout the match to relieve pressure on Tarbell.

In front of Nagbe and Artur, the stellar duo of Pedro Santos and Lucas Zellarayan will look to continue their creative ways, even without Etienne hustling on the right side. Instead, Porter’s earlier preference, Luis Diaz, gets the start on the right side. Up front, Gyasi Zardes starts in the striker position.

No playoff run is ever easy and this season has had its fair share of obstacles for every team to overcome. On Sunday night, the Crew will have to overcome even more adversity if the team is to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. This team has shown plenty of resiliency required to overcome these challenges.