In the Columbus Crew’s first CONCACAF Champion’s League game since 2011, the Black & Gold easily handled Nicaraguan champions Real Esteli, winning away 4-0. With a four away-goal advantage, the Crew would have to completely fall apart to lose the two-legged tie on Thursday.
With the MLS opener against the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, expect a heavily rotated side to see the win out and save legs for Sunday. Tim Bezbatchenko and his front office colleagues focused primarily on depth in the offseason and supporters will more than likely get a chance to see several new faces.
Massive Report asked you to pick who you would start in this second leg. Here is the Supporters’ XI:
Backup goalkeeper Evan Bush narrowly edged out Eloy Room in the supporters’ voting to start in goal. Aboubacar Keita and Josh Williams were picked to join Milton Valenzuela and Waylon Francis on the Crew’s backline. With both Artur and Darlington Nagbe recovering from injuries, Perry Kitchen, who made his debut in relief last week, joins Aidan Morris in the midfield. Isaiah Parente, another Homegrown signing steps in for Lucas Zelarayan in the Supporters’ XI and joins last weeks starters Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz. The supporters give high-profile offseason signing Bradley Wright Phillips his first start at the striker role.
There is plenty of rotation featured in the Supporters’ XI. Santos, Diaz and Williams are the only carryovers from last week’s winning side based on the road. While Diaz and Williams may not be the long term first-team players in their respective positions, injuries to Vito Wormgoor and Kevin Molino move them up the pecking order.
It is very easy to predict a starting lineup when Caleb Porter and his team have several days to prepare and several days to recover. As reigning MLS Cup champions, the Crew has earned spots in several auxiliary competitions and will need to rely more heavily on depth, thus making predictions a little more challenging.
Here is your Massive Report Predicted XI:
Room did not get much work last Thursday, but still gets the night off in preparation for Sunday’s MLS opener, giving way to Bush. The back four looks similar to the Supporters’ XI with Williams, Keita, Valenzuela and Francis. Artur came in later in the match last week as he continued to recover from sports hernia surgery. Look for him to pick up some solid time in preparation for Sunday, joining Morris in the midfield. Derrick Etienne Jr., who availed himself admirably in emergency right back work, moves up to his more comfortable position alongside Santos, who steps into the middle to run the show with Diaz beside him. Up front, Bradley Wright-Phillips makes his Crew starting debut.
Real Esteli will surely come out strong and physical, looking to rough things up. Morris and Francis, both on yellow cards from last week, will need to keep a level head to prevent disqualification in the next round.
Whomever Porter does chose to send out will be in for a long night of physical play as they hope to drain away the game and ensure the Crew’s most dominant performance in Champions League history.