For the first time in 12 years, the Columbus Crew earned a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League. This came thanks to winning the 2020 MLS Cup last December and the Crew is one of the favorites to take home the CCL trophy for the first time.
Not only did the Black & Gold bring back their entire MLS Cup winning starting XI, but the team added more depth and additional talent. This is due to the knowledge that Columbus will compete on multiple fronts this year.
On April 8, the Crew plays the away portion of the two-legged tie against Nicaraguan side Real Esteli. With a week of rest before the home leg and another three days before Columbus opens the 2021 MLS season, head coach Caleb Porter can send out a strong lineup to set a tone and ideally put the team in a good spot for the following week.
Massive Report asked you, the supporters to pick your preferred starting 11 and you responded with a offensively strong side, with four attacking midfielders receiving more votes than the second defensive midfielder.
Goalkeeper Eloy Room and the same back four that won the the MLS Cup Final were picked to take on Real Esteli. With center back Vito Wormgoor still slowly returning from his early 2020 ankle injury, Josh Williams slots in next to captain Johnathan Mensah.
The presumed absence of Artur looms large in the Supporters XI. The Brazilian continues to recover from hernia surgery and will most likely rule him out of starting the first leg of the CCL. In the midfield, you chose an extremely offensive-heavy group with Darlington Nagbe as the sole defensive midfielder. This group should be able to score some goals.
Up front, U.S. National Team striker still maintains an overwhelming choice over newcomer Bradley Wright-Philips, who will assuredly see plenty of time as the Crew will compete on several fronts this year.
While gaining an upper hand on Real Esteli would be advantageous for the Crew, it is highly unlikely Porter will put four offensive-minded midfielders in his starting 11. Here is our predicted XI:
The back four remains the same. With Wormgoor still a couple of weeks away from regular play, Williams will more than likely get the preferred spot of second center back.
Probably the most pressing question will be who Porter plays next to Nagbe in the midfield. New signing Perry Kitchen has gotten some time in the preseason, and very well may find himself spending some time in Artur’s spot while the regular midfielder continues to recover. With a week between games, Aidan Morris has more than proved himself as a worthy candidate for the other defensive midfield spot.
In front of the them, Santos moves to his more comfortable right side, with Derrick Etienne Jr. surely earning his spot on the left with his MLS Cup Final performance. Lucas Zelarayan and Gyasi Zardes fill out the point of the attack.
Regardless of who Porter decides to line up in Nicaragua, it will be crucial to get a strong start in the two-leg tie. The ability to bleed out the second game would be beneficial as the Black & Gold open up MLS play just three days later.