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Lineup breakdown: Crew get healthier, stronger

The Black & Gold do with arguably the best lineup available against Minnesota

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC and Minnesota United meet for the second time in 2020 on Wednesday night and for the first time in regular season play. The first contest between the two cross-divisional foes was a 1-1 draw in regulation but Minnesota prevailed in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 in a penalty kick shootout. On Wednesday, there will be no extra time and points will be rewarded.

After deploying a strong lineup in that late-July game against United, the Crew again put out arguably the best available group for this outing. The major changes of note are in goal, with a now-healthy Eloy Room back in his starting spot after Andrew Tarbell deputized for him during MLS is Back, and Fatai Alashe in for Darlington Nagbe. Room is leading MLS in shutouts (7) and goals against avaerage (0.33) since returning from his injury in Orlando. Nagbe suffered a knee injury and will now miss his third straight match after having a meniscus issue that caused his knee to be scoped.

The only other change from the starting lineup at MLS is Back is Josh Williams in for Aboubacar Keita at center back. Williams has appeared in six of Columbus’ 12 games so far this year, starting all six, but was given the night off in Saturday’s 2-0 win against Nashville SC. Keita stepped in and made amends for his last appearance — where he gifted New York City FC a game-winning goal — with a strong performance. Head coach Caleb Porter elected to go with the more experienced Williams for this clash against Minnesota.

The good news for the Black & Gold is the return of playmaker Lucas Zelarayan to the starting 11. After missing two straight matches with a knee injury, the Argentinean No. 10 made his return against Nashville on the weekend off the bench, playing 20-plus minutes and registering an assist. This is a welcome sight for Crew fans, as Zelarayan is second on the team in goals (4) and tied for second in assists (3).

With Zelarayan back and healthy from the start, Pedro Santos moves from the central role in which he was deployed the last few games to his more natural wide left position. Youness Mokhtar takes a seat on the bench with Luis Diaz keeping his spot in the starting 11 on the right.

The remainder of the Black & Gold starting 11 is as expected, with captain Jonathan Mensah leading a backline that consists of the stable Harrison Afful and Milton Valenzuela at fullback. Artur partners Alashe in midfield and will be responsible for keeping the ball and build-up play when in possession, but also disrupting Minnesota when the team loos to counter the other way.

Columbus’ bench is fairly to be expected. Tarbell continues to be the go-to backup to Room, while Keita is in reserve at center back. Hector Jimenez and Chris Cadden are both available as substitutes, while Sebastian Berhalter and Aidan Morris — who hasn’t made an appearance for the Crew since July 16 — can step in as central midfield options off the bench. Derrick Etienne Jr. and Mokhtar are the wing options, with Jordan Hamilton ready if needed in place of the “not available” Fernando Adi.