To say that the start of the Columbus Crew’s 2021 season isn’t going to plan is an understatement. The Crew has won just a single Major League Soccer regular season match and each week with a slightly different lineup due to injures and match congestion. Now, a trip to Red Bull Arena, home of Saturday’s match against New York City FC awaits.
For the match, Massive Report wanted to know who you think should get the starting nod for the Black & Gold. Here’s who you picked:
Some names on here are easy each week, and the Thursday injury report didn’t give much fluidity in other areas. These certain names in the back are goalkeeper Eloy Room and center back Jonathan Mensah. Next to Mensah, fans chose Josh Williams, the 2020 MLS Cup-winning duo that has looked the best for Columbus this season when paired together.
Outside of the center backs, the fullbacks came with a different set of questions. Milton Valenzuela is still out but was practicing with fellow injured Crew player Kevin Molino, a good sign for the future. Veterans Waylon Francis and Harrison Afful got the fans’ pick, although Francis is listed as questionable.
The only other area of real competition is at right winger. Alexandru Matan, Derrick Etienne Jr. and Luis Diaz make up the three-player race. Supporters picked Diaz who has been the starting choice much of the year, and both Matan and Etienne weren’t at the open portion of practice mid-week. Etienne was questionable but Matan’s name wasn’t on the report, which adds a wrinkle to tonight’s selection.
Now let’s compare that lineup to who Massive Report predicts.
Fullback is the only area where the two lineups differ. Saad Abdul-Salaam goes in over Francis due to that questionable status. Abdul-Salaam has looked good with the Crew, and there isn’t a big drop in on-field play between the two. Unless Francis made strides in recovery over the past two days, it seems unnecessary to risk further injury.
An argument could be made for center back Vito Wormgoor, but in his last start, Columbus lost 2-0. The defeat wasn’t his fault but a late Jozy Altidore goal came in an area where the U.S. striker should have met more difficulty from a Black & Gold defender. Plus, the communication between Mensah and Wormgoor needs more time to develop, in competitive play.
All 10 other positions seem like easy choices at this point, unless head coach Caleb Porter throws supporters for another loop an hour before kickoff. Each week brings another surprise in player selection. Hopefully this week, and with the added benefit of media being allowed at practice again, the only surprise is a Crew away victory.