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The Crew’s Kevin Molino out six to eight weeks

The Black & Gold will be down one winger for some time.

Sporting Kansas City v Minnesota United FC Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The Columbus Crew is yet to play a Major League Soccer game in 2021 but the defending MLS Cup champions are already dealing with major injury news. The club announced on Monday that offseason signee Kevin Molino will be out six to eight weeks with a reoccurring hamstring injury.

Expected to be a major player for the Black & Gold as the team looks to defend its second ever MLS Cup title, Molino signed for the club in early January, the second of multiple MLS free agency signings made by Columbus this offseason to help boost the team’s depth. Molino initially suffered the injury during the Crew’s preseason camp and missed multiple weeks, and preseason friendly games, while recovering. Molino returned for the final closed-door scrimmage of the preseason in the loss to Toronto FC.

Molino did not travel to Nicaragua with the Black & Gold for the team’s first official match of the 2021 season in the CONCACAF Champions League. In the 4-0 win against Real Esteli, Columbus started veteran Pedro Santos on the left wing and Luis Diaz on the right. Santos scored the Crew’s fourth goal from the penalty spot just before halftime and Diaz provided an assist on forward Gyasi Zardes’ second finish of the match.

If Molino misses six weeks, he be out of seven games for Columbus, including Thursday’s second leg against Esteli and the MLS season opener on Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, both games at historic Crew Stadium. If the hamstring injury keeps Molino out longer, he could — based on the timetable provided by the club — miss an additional game and not suit up for the Black & Gold until Saturday, June 19 against the Chicago Fire following a two-week break.

Injuries are nothing new to Molino’s career. The Trinidad and Tobago international missed the vast majority of the 2015 and 2018 seasons after tearing his ACL. Last year, Molino played in 18 of 21 games for Minnesota United, scoring nine goals and adding two assists as the club finished fourth in the Western Conference and reached the Western Conference Final.

Molino was projected to start on the right wing for the Crew opposite Santos. Given the expected increased schedule load with MLS play, Champions League and possible U.S. Open Cup games, the Black & Gold wanted to add quality depth across the field and did so with the signing of players such as Molino, forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, midfielder Perry Kitchen and defender Marlon Hairston. With Molino out, Diaz, Derrick Etienne Jr. and fellow new signing Alexandru Matan — who just arrived in Columbus last week — will have to take on a bigger role.

The Crew is also dealing with potential injuries to Hairston, right back Harrison Afful, neither of which were available for the first leg in the Champions League, Santos, Etienne and midfielder Darlington Nagbe, who all left the match with various injuries. Head coach Caleb Porter is expected to speak to the media on Monday afternoon and will provide updates on these injuries.