One thing that doesn’t normally get associated with an undefeated record and not giving up a goal in a tournament is injuries. Despite losing a starting defender, winger and goalkeeper, Columbus Crew SC has managed to put on the most impressive group stage performance from the teams participating in the MLS is Back Tournament.
That was the group stage. Now it’s time for the knockout round. If you’re new to the MLS is Back Tournament format, it’s important to note before talking about tonight’s predicted starting lineups that all of the group stage matches counted towards MLS regular season standings. Starting tonight, no additional points will be added to the Crew’s first place league standing.
There was a lot to consider going into this match, with how head coach Caleb Porter would choose to take on the rest of the tournament, until he spoke with the media on Sunday. Porter wants Columbus to win a trophy.
In this match’s Supporters’ XI, chosen by you, it reflects that Columbus is indeed going for it.
There are no surprises with this lineup, and you chose confidently in every position. Andrew Tarbell received all but three votes after his stellar performance against the not-so-stellar Atlanta United. While Atlanta’s offense is currently not something to be feared, with Miguel Almiron’s exit last season and Josef Martinez’s season ending injury this year, Tarbell had shots come his way and he kept his first clean sheet in his time with the Black & Gold.
Milton Valenzuela featured in half of the United match before being subbed off at halftime. In his return, Valenzuela had the only assist of the contest, to Youness Mokhtar, who will be out for tonight’s match. In Mokhtar’s place, you chose Luis Diaz, who has done just about everything you can ask of him except put the ball in the back of the net. It isn’t due to a lack of trying though, as Diaz has led the club with seven shots, but only two on target.
Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan are two names that can be written on the team sheet in permanent ink, with their stellar performance throughout not only the group stage, but the pre-coronavirus matches against New York City FC and Seattle Sounders.
At the top of the lineup, Gyasi Zardes received all but three votes to be Columbus’ striker, which in past supporter chosen XIs, Zardes has been chosen but not by as strong of a margin. Zardes has had a great tournament, scoring three goals in three matches. He’s able to focus on scoring with a healthy offensive set around him. Zelarayan, Pedro Santos and the revolving door of Mokhtar and Diaz has pulled the defense away from locking in on the forward in the penalty box and he’s showing the same form that won him 2018 MLS Comeback Player of the Year award.
It’s hard to go against what Porter said on Sunday. If there was any question on how he would take on the knockout rounds, consider them answered. The only change from the supporter-chosen XI is Aboubacar Keita’s absence. For good reason, Josh Williams was chosen by supporters. He had a great match against the New York Red Bulls, he’s a leader within the club and a Columbus fan favorite.
One moment in the tournament has me choosing the young U.S. international over the Ohio native: Vito Wormgoor’s injury. In the 17th minute of a then goalless contest against rivals FC Cincinnati, Porter brought on Keita to play the rest of the match. He’s a player that has Porter’s trust and alongside a healthy Jonathan Mensah, has been doing well in the tournament. With that Wormgoor injury and the years of experience with both him and Williams, Keita is set up to be a defender that a team can grow around. Giving him experience in a match where something is on the line makes sense for his growth as a player.
In a few hours, when Porter and the Crew line up against Minnesota United, we’ll find out if the head coach’s lineup mirrors his strong comments on winning. The odds are pretty good that it does.