At long last, we are just hours away from the first live Columbus Crew SC action since March. In anticipation of the Crew starting its run in the MLS is Back Tournament we asked you, the supporters, to chose your preferred starting 11 to take on FC Cincinnati on Saturday night.
At goalkeeper, Eloy Room was the consensus to start, receiving nearly 95 percent of the votes. The Dutch keeper is undoubtedly Caleb Porter’s go-to, so it’s no surprise he received the majority of the votes.
The back four were equally as decisive. Crew captain, Jonathan Mensah, as well as off-season acquisition Vito Wormgoor, won the majority of votes at center back. On the outside, Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful beat out Chris Cadden at the fullback positions.
Darlington Nagbe was the highest vote-getter in the midfield. One of the newest members of the Crew joins longtime midfielder Artur as the two defensive midfielders selected by the supporters. Further upfield, Pedro Santos and Lucas Zelarayan both closely followed Nagbe in votes. For the third attacking midfielder, Luis Diaz narrowly edged out Youness Mokhtar and Derrick Etienne Jr. on the wing.
Up front, Gyasi Zardes grabbed 88 percent of the vote at striker, with Fanendo Adi and Miguel Berry splitting the other 12 percent.
It’s hard to argue with the starting XI the supporters selected. When all players are available, this should be Caleb Porter’s go-to line up. And since MLS isn’t disclosing injuries, we have no reason to believe players won’t be (although Porter did say this week that some minor injuries forced some players to miss time in training).
With the next match not until Thursday, fatigue should not be an issue yet. Room is the undisputed first-team goalkeeper, likely only rotating with Andrew Tarbell when workload dictates. Jonathan and Wormgoor, when healthy, should anchor the Crew’s defense at center back. Afful may split time eventually with Cadden but the Ghanian remains the team’s starter at right back. Valenzuela looks to gather some momentum on the left side, hopefully now fully fit after the ACL tear last year and another knee issue already earlier this season.
Porter will undoubtedly choose Nagbe to direct things from the defensive midfield spot along with Artur. The defensive midfield is probably the thinnest, depth-wise with homegrown prospects Aidan Morris and Sebastian Berhalter as the only backup. Cadden may fill in as a utility player from time to time.
Zelarayan looks to build on the positive start at the beginning of the season, helping to create some of the Crew’s best offensive chances in the first two games. Santos’ spot seems locked in on one wing. The only question is who will be on the other. If Diaz, the young playmaker who has gained popularity within the fanbase, gets the nod, look for him to slot in on the right with the more diverse Santos moving to the left. Porter favored Mokhtar in the first two games of the season and could go with experience initially, looking to bring Diaz as an impact sub.
Zardes is the no-question starting striker as the team’s top goal scorer the last two seasons.
While Porter should start with a fairly straight forward starting XI, the long layover and the extended nature of the tournament will necessitate some rotation. Also, not all players are 100 percent fit yet, so expect the lineup to reflect the top players who can perform the longest in the first game in Orlando. Keep an eye on who Porter goes to as substitutes as an indication of who might get starting time further in the tournament.