Little has gone wrong for Columbus Crew SC since the return to play in Major League Soccer after the coronavirus pandemic delay. The team began the MLS is Back Tournament with two convincing wins, sealing passage into the knockout round with one game to spare in the group stage. But one negative hung over the team despite the early success.
Center back Vito Wormgoor suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the 4-0 win against FC Cincinnati in the first game of the MLS is Back Tournament. The defender underwent successful surgery on his right ankle on Wednesday and is expected to miss four to six months to recover. Wormgoor, who was substituted in the 17th minute of the opening match, was sent home from the MLS is Back Tournament bubble after the opening match and had the procedure in Columbus, Ohio. The surgery was performed by orthopedic specialist, Dr. Scott Van Steyn.
“Vito has left the bubble to get his ankle evaluated by our team doctors,” head coach Caleb Porter told reporters following Saturday’s victory against Cincinnati. ”It’s serious enough where we thought that was important for him to leave and get evaluated. As far as what that means and what’s going to happen, we’re don’t know that for sure but he’s definitely out for the rest of the tournament.”
Wormgoor joined the Black & Gold in December and was expected to partner Jonathan Mensah as the team’s starting center back pairing. The Dutchman started Columbus’ 1-0 season-opening win against New York City FC in early March but suffered both an ankle and rib injury in the game and missed the team’s 1-1 draw against the Seattle Sounders in Week 2. Following the coronavirus hiatus, Wormgoor and Jonathan started the initial game of the MLS is Back Tournament before the ankle injury on a sliding tackle early against Cincinnati.
“Vito’s very unique, we signed him because he is a winner and he’s a warrior and he’s very focused and you know what you get with him, game in and game out,” Porter said after the opening win. “We’re certainly going to miss him, but with his door kind of closing, we have other doors opening with Josh and Bouba.”
As Porter mentioned, the Crew has depth at center back. Second-year defenders Aboubacar Keita came off the bench against FC Cincinnati, playing 73-plus minutes and helped the team to a shut out victory. Veteran Josh Williams started alongside Jonathan in Thursday night’s 2-0 win against the New York Red Bulls, featuring for the full 90 minutes.
The Black & Gold also have Axel Sjoberg, who was acquired in the offseason from the Colorado Rapids. Sjoberg was initially sent on loan to United Soccer League Championship side San Antonio FC to begin the season but was recalled after the pandemic delay and traveled with the team to the tournament in Orlando, Florida.
“We are really glad we brought Axel here,” Porter said this week. “Pat Onstad, Tim Bezbatchenko and myself, prior to the tournament, asked, ‘Do we bring Axel back from loan?’ We felt it was the right decision to do because center backs historically speaking tend to take knocks.”
After the two opening wins to begin the MLS is Back Tournament, the Crew faces Atlanta United on Tuesday, July 21, with the top spot in Group E already secure. That game is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. ET and is broadcast on TUDN or streamed on Twitter.