The Columbus Crew began the 2021 season with a 4-0 win over Real Esteli last Thursday in the CONCACAF Champions League. One game has been played with plenty more to go but the Black & Gold are dealing with a handful of minor injuries entering the start of the Major League Soccer regular season this Sunday against the Philadelphia Union.
Head coach Caleb Porter spoke to multiple members of the media on Monday afternoon and gave a summary on all the Crew players who are injured, being evaluated for an injury and are unavailable to train heading into Thursday’s second leg against Real Esteli at historic Crew Stadium. Earlier on Monday, the club announced new signing Kevin Molino would be sidelined for six to eight weeks with a hamstring injury. This will see Molino’s debut put on hold until at least late May.
“He had several hamstring issues last year,” said Porter. “He had three or four minor ones and I think what we’re seeing with him is he needs a thorough return to play. We certainly want him in now but it’s really important we get him right and we don’t want him to have a bunch of little hamstring issues this year.”
Molino is the only Columbus player that currently has an extended injury that will keep him out for a longer period of time. Crew fans did watch Thursday night with worry as they saw Darlington Nagbe and Pedro Santos subbed out of the game with apparent injuries while Derrick Etienne Jr. was tackled hard late in the match and limped off the field. According to Porter, Santos is fine while Nagbe and Etienne are being further evaluated.
Nagbe is scheduled for an MRI on Monday to look at a hamstring injury but Porter says it’s likely not very serious.
“It will be a very minor injury if there is one,” said Porter. “It could be anything from a minor strain to a contusion but it definitely felt a little bit like a tight hamstring. I’d be very surprised if he is out at all. Probably Thursday for sure, doubtful. We’ll see on Philly it depends a little bit on what this MRI says. Worst case scenario I think he would be back after the bye week.”
Etienne played right back for the first time in over a year last Thursday and suffered an ankle sprain at the end of the match.
“He was feeling a little bit better today,” Porter said. “Hasn’t trained. Probably doubtful for Thursday and similar to Darlington, worst case scenario he is back after the bye week. Could be available for Philadelphia. We’ll see how he progresses.”
The bye week Porter is referring to begins after Sunday’s MLS opening match against the Union in Columbus. The Black & Gold don’t have any matches from April 19-26 and is likely to return to play between April 27-29 with the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal. So for Nagbe and Etienne, it seems both will be available and fully healthy for the beginning of May pending further evaluations.
Etienne stepped in at right back due to the absences of starter Harrison Afful and new backup Marlon Hairston from the Crew squad that traveled to Managua, Nicaragua. Afful is back in training with the team and is building his fitness up again after being out for 10 days during preseason. “He could probably get some minutes in this Thursday game,” Porter said Hairston is dealing with a “really painful swollen bone bruise on his knee,” according to Porter and “is probably doubtful for this week.”
Despite these early injuries to multiple players, the Black & Gold are likely to rotate its lineup for the Thursday match against Esteli with a quarterfinal spot virtually secured before kickoff. Another player that is still unavailable for that match is winger Alexandru Matan who has yet to be cleared medically to start training but is set to begin this Saturday. The Crew is likely to rotate a number of players on Thursday to keep starters healthy and ready for Sunday’s MLS opener.
It’s far from the end of the world for Columbus with little to no severe injuries and that early bye week that will give those out plenty of time to get healthy and re-group, something that was hard to come by during the congested season of 2020. But the Crew added this depth for moments like this to stay competitive at any time throughout the season.
“Don’t worry,” Porter said. “We got good guys and we’ll figure out ways to win no matter what this year.”