The Columbus Crew’s opening game is approaching with a little over a week to go until the team kicks off the 2021 season. The April 8 encounter with Real Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League will be the start for the Black & Gold but not for all its players.
As preseason continues to roll on in Orlando, a couple of Crew players are trying to work their way back to full health, including starting midfielder Artur. The 25-year old Brazilian had surgery for a hernia after the 2020 MLS Cup Final and is continuing his recovery. Part of that recovery has meant he was absent from full training until this past week.
“I don’t think he will be completely ready for the start of CCL.,” said head coach Caleb Porter last week. “He might be able to get some minutes but he’s not played a game yet, so we’re going to have to build him up.”
Artur was instrumental for the Crew in the 2020 championship-winning season and never had a long-term injury bug. He started 20 regular season games and all four MLS Cup playoff matches, scoring three goals and providing four assists. While doubtful, Porter said Artur can be ready for a chunk of minutes for either of the two legs.
“Maybe we can mix him in and build his minutes up,” the head coach continued, “but it’s also tricky if you’re trying to get results. But for sure we could probably throw him in hopefully in one of those two games and get 30 or 45 (minutes).”
Should Porter go with his strongest 11 for the opener, Darlington Nagbe would likely start in central midfield and could be alongside new signing Perry Kitchen or youngster Aidan Morris. Another position Porter has injury issues is at center back with Vito Wormgoor likely not ready for the Champions League play either.
The Dutch center back was signed at the beginning of the 2020 season and missed the nearly entire year after suffering an ankle injury at the first game of the MLS is Back Tournament in July that required surgery. He is expected to step into a key defensive role for the Black & Gold this year but that likely won’t come until the MLS season opener. Captain Jonathan Mensah will likely pair with either Josh Williams or Aboubacar Keita for the first game of the season if Porter picks his top lineup.
“We’ll be smart,” said Porter. “Our medical staff does a great job of managing those things but Vito and Arty aren’t ready to play yet.”
Both Artur and Wormgoor will continue to build up their strength in the back half of preseason and likely be ready for the MLS season opener against the Philadelphia Union on April 18 in Columbus. Another player who continues to build his strength from an injury is Kevin Molino.
Molino has been dealing with a hamstring issue that caused him to be sidelined from international duty with Trinidad & Tobago this past month and from some Crew training. The Black & Gold’s newest No. 9 played 35 minutes in the preseason match against Orlando City and he said he felt good throughout. He will likely be ready for the start of the Champions League and could make his Black & Gold debut in Managua against Real Esteli.