Almost a week after Columbus Crew SC got its offensive groove back in the most recent edition of the Hell is Real Derby, the Black & Gold face Chicago Fire at Soldier Field on Saturday. Comparatively speaking, this has been one of the longest breaks between games since MLS returned from the pandemic-induced long pause.
The Crew players could use a little time to catch their breath and recover from injuries before suiting up against a long-time rival that has struggled as of late. With another week off in between this game and the first game of Phase Two, head coach Caleb Porter doesn’t need to be as creative in resting legs as he did during the two-game-a-week clip the team previously endured.
Unsurprisingly, the over 200 supporters who submitted a predicted starting XI were fairly consensus and stuck with the expected first team starting lineup:
In goal, Eloy Room is selected by a near unanimous vote to add to his collection of clean sheets and the back four left little to be in doubt with Josh Williams and Jonathan Mensah at center back and Milton Valenzuela and Harrison Afful on the wings.
Darlington Nagbe returns to his usual defensive midfielder role after being a more than serviceable No. 10 performance last week. He is joined by Artur. In front of them, Pedro Santos and Lucas Zelarayan were overwhelming favorites. Recent standout Luis Diaz, while the lowest vote-getter in the Supporter’s XI, still beat out the next highest total by more than 60 percent.
Up front, the renaissancing Gyassi Zardes got every single vote for striker. It’s hard to argue when he has seven goals already and has been one of the Crew’s most reliable standouts.
Very few could’ve predicted the less-than-expected lineup Porter put out against FC Cincinnati last Sunday. In the second half, things returned to a little closer approximation of what supporters might expect as “normal,” but with a return to a more regular match schedule, and hopefully a return of Zelarayan, expect a more traditional starting XI on Saturday afternoon:
Almost identical to the Supporter’s XI, it’s hard to argue with the vote. This current back four, combined with Room has been a veritable brick wall, allowing only two goals all year. Porter is generally conservative when talking about return times from injuries, which has caused pause in the Predicted XI before. This time, look for Zelarayan to make his comeback to the starting XI, allowing Nagbe to return to his usual No. 6 spot, bringing his usual partner Artur along for the ride.
The right side of the midfield is probably the biggest question mark. Not that either option is a liability. Both Santos and Diaz have proven to be more than worthy to maintain a starting spot. With Santos getting more starting time, it’s high time Diaz got a start, but it could just as easily go Santos’ way. Mokhtar has been the most reliable left-side midfielder the Crew has put out this year, and he gets the nod.
Up front, Zardes will hope to get scoring going early and allow a little rotation in preparation for Phase Two.
Without the reliability of a regular schedule to provide a consistent lineups, Porter has had to get creative. It’s been very difficult to predict this creativity, but as Phase One fades into Phase Two, it looks as though the Crew might get the 2020 equivalent of normalcy in the schedule. With that pseudo-normalcy, Porter can solidify a much more consistent lineup as the Crew heads toward an MLS Cup playoff run.