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Analyzing the Crew’s options to replace Nagbe, Santos

The coach has difficult decisions to make in key areas of the team – here is a deeper look at his alternatives.

MLS: New England Revolution at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Head coach Caleb Porter has a couple of difficult decisions to make ahead of Columbus Crew’s appearance in the 2020 MLS Cup Final after the news broke that Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos won’t be available to play against the defending champions Seattle Sounders at MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday night.

Porter, an MLS Cup winner back in 2015 with the Portland Timbers, has three viable options for both Nagbe’s and Santos’ spots, but it’s clear and obvious that no matter which path he chooses, the Black & Gold won’t be able to replace the production provided of the two key players.

Each option for both the central midfield and the winger position has the ability to bring something different to the table and their own skillset and Porter’s final decisions will ultimately indicate what he’s looking to get on the field when the Crew faces the Sounders.

Here’s a brief analysis of the options he has to replace Nagbe and Santos:

Midfield

Fatai Alashe

From the three potential midfield replacements, Alashe is by far the most experienced option with 107 MLS matches under his belt. The 27-year-old midfielder is also the most physical of all three, which could prove important against a Sounders team that scored three of its last four goals off set pieces. He’s also the most defensive-minded of all three, which is probably a good thing, but also a more noticeable departure from the Crew’s typical ball-playing style.

The downside of going with Alashe is that he’s not as great of a passer as the other options. That would put the ball way more often on Artur’s feet, which, despite the Brazilian’s great form, could be risky. Also, he hasn’t appeared in a match since the end of October and it’s uncertain where his match rhythm and confidence are right now.

Sebastian Berhalter

The Homegrown rookie has been a good two-way player during his limited time on the field in 2020, showing he’s further ahead on his development as a player than many expected. He had some good defensive performances against the New York Red Bulls back at the MLS is Back Tournament back in July and, most recently against D.C. United in October, and also played well in an important match against Toronto FC.

His lack of experience at the age of 19 and in his first professional season is the clear risk with a potential selection. Berhalter has played only 395 minutes during the season and, to make things worse, he was unavailable for selection for medical reasons until recently, which generates questions about his form right now.

Aidan Morris

Morris seems be the fans’ pick to step in, at least based on social media. Part of it is certainly due to the good play and strong character he showed when replacing Nagbe during the season during the Crew’s roughest run of form in 2020. The rookie is also arguably the best passer of all three options and has, in theory, the best chance of splitting the building up duties with Artur in the center of the field. Additionally, he played in the team’s two last regular season matches and is probably in better form than both Alashe and Berhalter.

As with Berhalter, the main argument against Morris starting is his limited experience. The Indiana University product played only 360 minutes this season, the lowest mark among all three, and started in only two matches against Alashe’s six and Berhalter’s four. The prospect of having a rookie defending an elite player like Nicolas Lodeiro certainly raises some eyebrows in Ohio.

Poll

Who Should Replace Darligton Nagbe in the MLS Cup Final?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Fatai Alashe
    (24 votes)
  • 17%
    Sebastian Berhalter
    (15 votes)
  • 51%
    Aidan Morris
    (45 votes)
  • 3%
    Other (write in comments)
    (3 votes)
87 votes total Vote Now

Winger

Emmanuel Boateng

If Porter wants to stretch the Sounders’ defense, he’ll most likely go with Boateng. The Ghanaian is the only left-footed player among the three options, which gives him the ability to play wider and is probably the fastest too. In theory, Boateng is also the most intense player of all three, which could give him a better chance to come closer – even if probably not really close – to Santos’ defensive work for the team.

The most compelling argument against Boateng might be his lack of production. He was signed mid-season, which isn’t always easy, but has generated only one assist in 12 matches played. Producing from the wings will be key for the Crew to win the match and he hasn’t really shown he can do it consistently since he arrived in Columbus.

Derrick Etienne Jr.

Many consider Etienne the frontrunner to get the start and that has a lot to do with the fact that he was doing just that until recently. Etienne started five out of seven matches between the end of the regular season and the start of the MLS Cup playoffs until he missed the last two. He also generated two assists in that stretch.

What might make Etienne’s start against the Sounders less likely is exactly the fact that he missed the team’s last two matches for medical reasons and didn’t return to normal training until this week. It’s unclear if he’s ready to keep up with what’s expected to be an intense, high-energy match from a physical standpoint. Last, but not least, is the fact that among the three, he’s clearly the less comfortable on the left side of the field where Santos typically plays.

Youness Mokhtar

Mokhtar’s calling card on this debate is certainly the fact that he’s the only one capable of replicating Santos’ play in the pocket and combining with Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes around the penalty box. He’s also arguably the best finisher of all three, having scored three goals during the season, and the most technically gifted and capable of finding spaces and creating goal-scoring opportunities on his own.

That, however, could also play against him since he’s not able to perform as well when playing out wide as Santos is and his presence would make the team more predictable and less explosive. Additionally, he’s apparently fallen down the pecking order with Porter and is yet to play his first postseason match since arriving in Columbus last year.

Poll

Who Should Replace Pedro Santos in the MLS Cup Final?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Emmanuel Boateng
    (12 votes)
  • 35%
    Derrick Etienne Jr.
    (28 votes)
  • 48%
    Youness Mokhtar
    (38 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (write in comments)
    (1 vote)
79 votes total Vote Now