Between Wednesday’s home match and Sunday, May 16, the Columbus Crew will play six games. Before this tough stretch, Columbus received a boost to the injury report. Head coach Caleb Porter told the media this week that all players are healthy, except midfielders Aidan Morris and Kevin Molino.
Last week didn’t give supporters many options to choose from in the Supporters’ XI. Massive Report wants you to now use this clean roster bill of health to decide who starts Leg 1 of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal, against Monterrey of Liga MX.
There are some positions where the choice is clear and much cloudier in other spots on the field. Goalkeeper Eloy Room is starting unless injury comes into the picture. Even when Columbus had a four-goal cushion in the team’s first set of Champions League matches, Room remained the starter.
On the backline, two of the four positions are clear. Center back, and team captain, Jonathan Mensah missed just one match since the beginning of 2020. Alongside him is fullback Milton Valenzuela. Expect both of them to start a big match against Monterrey.
The other center back and fullback position are where questions arise. Mensah and fellow center back Josh Williams haven’t allowed a goal in over 560 minutes or six whole matches. A wrinkle in this partnership is the return of Dutch defender Vito Wormgoor. When Wormgoor was healthy in 2020, he started. Columbus signed him prior to last season to shore up the defense, but that was before Williams’ strong 2020 campaign. Porter’s choice for Wednesday may show what he sees as the future duo for the Crew.
At fullback, Harrison Afful is still the likely starter at the position when healthy but Columbus signing multiple fullbacks with Marlon Hairston and Saad Abdul-Salaam, plus Waylon Francis on the roster, meaning there is room for rotation. Especially with multiple competitions for Columbus throughout 2021.
In the midfield, Darlington Nagbe and Artur are the first-choice pairing. So far, in 2021, they haven’t played more than six minutes together due to injury. With Nagbe’s return from a minor knock and Artur fully healthy, Porter has a tandem that will increase their possession, a strength that he made clear was lacking in the 0-0 draw against the Philadelphia Union.
The attacking midfield and forward positions have three clear starters, Lucas Zelarayan, Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes. The Crew is in the Champions League because of the pursuit of trophies and all three are clear picks for this big midweek match in their pursuit of one that isn’t in Columbus’ trophy cabinet.
There are choices at the other winger spot, however. Luis Diaz started all three Black & Gold matches in 2020, and it isn’t just due to Molino’s injury. Diaz is a starting-caliber offensive weapon but hasn’t scored since the 2019 season. Challenging him for the start are Derrick Etienne Jr. and Alexandru Matan.
Etienne sustained an injury near the end of Leg 1 against Real Esteli, Columbus’ first match of 2020. He returned for the Union match, substituting for Diaz and playing 26 minutes. Matan played even fewer minutes, just three, but getting any minutes so soon after his arrival bodes well for the future. Matan came in against Philadelphia when Columbus pushed for a goal and it wouldn’t be too big of a shock to see him start a match or two during this tough two-week stretch.
Now it’s time for you to make your picks. Select who you think should start below and a contributor from Massive Report will share both yours and their picks before Wednesday’s home match.