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Supporters’ XI: Philadelphia Union

With injuries to sort through, make your picks for starters for the first MLS regular season match of 2021.

Seattle Sounders FC v Columbus Crew SC: - MLS Cup Final Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Columbus Crew 2021 competitive calendar features five goals, two wins and two clean sheets but the results aren’t the storyline. Injuries have taken over the narrative. The list is long after just a week. Defenders Marlon Hairston and Vito Wormgoor, midfielder Darlington Nagbe and wingers Kevin Molino and Derrick Etienne Jr. all missed Thursday’s second leg against Real Esteli. Then in that game, midfielder Aidan Morris suffered an injury in the fourth minute.

As bleak as the injury list looks, other players returned from injury. Some of those names mentioned above have a chance of being on Sunday’s roster too.

Before the Philadelphia Union and the Crew play on national television this weekend, Massive Report wants you to choose who starts the match. Massive Report will publish your picks, alongside picks from a contributor to the site, before kickoff.

There are healthy positions across the field though. Goalkeeper Eloy Room played both legs against Esteli in the CONCACAF Champions League. The center back partnership of Jonathan Mensah and Josh Williams played the first leg, and Williams played substitute minutes for Aboubacar Keita at the end of Leg 2.

At forward, both Gyasi Zardes and Bradley Wright-Phillips are available for selection. The two scored a combined three goals against Esteli.

The three-man attacking midfield has Lucas Zelarayan, Pedro Santos and Luis Diaz healthy and available for Sunday. Derrick Etienne Jr. is available and could make the starting selection interesting after suffering a minor injury in the last 10 minutes in Leg 1. Homegrown midfielder Isaiah Parente played in both matches against Real and is high up the depth chart for substitute selection.

Porter’s two-man holding midfield roles will be interesting. When healthy, Nagbe and Artur are the starting duo but in two matches in 2021, they’ve played together for only six minutes. Nagbe is still out Sunday after he sustained a minor injury. Artur has 75 minutes in two matches this season, playing the first half against Esteli.

Veteran Perry Kitchen is ready to jump into that midfield. Kitchen came in as a substitute in Leg 1 and started the second at center back. He quickly moved to midfield when Morris went down in the third minute. A big question in the midfield is whether it’s expected that Artur can play a full 90 minutes. Hernia surgery in the offseason limited his preseason and his minutes have jumped just 15 minutes in the first two games.

Beyond Artur, there aren’t any other midfielders that traditionally play that role available. Unless Porter changes formation, Parente could come in as a midfield sub if Artur can’t play a full match.

Finally, the fullbacks. After not even making the bench in Leg 1 for injury, Afful played a full 45-minute first half in Leg 2. His 2020 fullback partner on the other side of the field, Milton Valenzuela, replaced him in the second half. Veteran Waylon Francis was on the field for the entire match on Thursday, but if Afful is close to 100 percent, expect Francis to play the substitute role and the normal partnership of Valenzuela and Afful starting.

Saturday, the Crew announced the signing of veteran fullback Saad Abdul-Salaam. He spent last season with FC Cincinnati, and prior to that with the Seattle Sounders, New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City. It’s unsure if he is available so soon after signing.

Now it’s your turn to choose. Make your picks below for the match against the Union.