Columbus Crew SC is set to return to play following the coronavirus pandemic delay in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 11. With this new World Cup-style format and rules to help assist teams and players who haven’t been in a competitive match since mid-March, there is going to be some adjustment.
One of those new rules is the allowance of five substitutes, up from the normal three, which has been seen in the game around the world since leagues returned to the field. With the compressed schedule of the MLS is Back Tournament and the increase in the number of substitutes per game, there will be more opportunities than ever before for players to get on the field and make an impact.
To that end, Massive Report looks at one player in each area of the field who seems well-positioned to see his role with the Black and Gold grow over the next several weeks. For the purposes of this article, we look only at players that did not start the first two games of the MLS season before the shutdown.
Goalkeeper: Andrew Tarbell
With Jon Kempin loaned out to the San Diego Loyal of thee USL Championship and given the late arrival of Eloy Room to the Black & Gold’s training camp before the MLS is Back Tournament due to the birth of his first child, there is a chance we will get to see Tarbell, who was signed from the San Jose Earthquakes before the beginning of this season, between the posts at some point during the MLS is Back Tournament. Tarbell had the opportunity to adjust to his move to Columbus and to have some additional training time with the team during the break in play, which should help the former MLS Goalkeeper of the Year nominee’s comfort level with the defense in front of him.
Defender: Chris Cadden
As with any tournament, a player’s ability to plug into multiple positions on the field is an invaluable asset for his team. Cadden’s ability to play as a right or left back, a right midfielder or even in central midfield provides a lot of options for head coach Caleb Porter, as well as a lot of opportunities for Cadden to see more game time. Harrison Afful and Hector Jimenez’s ages (33 and 31 respectively) also have to be considered in comparison to Cadden’s youthful 23. Besides the short-term issues of weather in Orlando, Florida and a compressed schedule, the Black & Gold could really benefit long-term if Cadden gets a good stretch of play and performs well, with the possibility that Cadden could be the future starter at right back.
Midfielder: Derrick Etienne Jr.
Etienne is another player who can step in at a variety of positions. The offseason addition can play as a left or right winger, an attacking midfielder or even a forward in a pinch. Like Cadden, Etienne is also only 23 years old and therefore his youth is a benefit to him. Etienne has the ability to finish, as was seen by his first-minute goal against his former team, the New York Red Bulls, during the preseason. During the MLS is Back Tournament, Porter is going to look for impact players who can change a game and Etienne fits that mold with his quick, direct style that can help stretch opposing teams on the wings and over the top. Another factor that will result in more playing time for Etienne is the relative lack of depth on the left wing for the Crew, with the only other primary option being Youness Mokhtar.
Forward: Fanendo Adi
Given that the Black & Gold want to be aggressive and press the opposition backline, the compressed schedule could result in more playing time for substitutes. Adi, who joined the club at the beginning of the season, has also had more time to settle in with his new team and can offer a physical alternative to starter Gyasi Zardes, especially as the tournament grinds on and opposing defenses tire in the Orlando heat with minimal rest times between games.