As down as supporters felt after the Columbus Crew gave up a late 2-1 lead to Monterrey last Wednesday, the 2020 MLS champions are in a strong position to move ahead in the CONCACAF Champions League. Forget aggregate scoring or road goals. If the Crew wins in Leg 2 against Monterrey in Mexico on Wednesday, the team moves forward.
That will be easier said than done, as star midfielder Lucas Zelarayan is out due to an accumulation of yellow cards. How will Columbus line up? Will center back Jonathan Mensah play after a hamstring injury kept him out of last week’s match? We want you, the Columbus supporter, to consider those questions and more as you make your picks for the next Supporters’ XI.
Zelarayan and Mensah are the two biggest stories going in. Even if the yellow card was unjustly given to the Argentinian midfielder, there’s no appeal allowed and he isn’t playing Wednesday. Head coach Caleb Porter has options in Zelarayan’s absence, however.
The most likely selection is Pedro Santos in the No. 10 position. On the wings are Luis Diaz and Derrick Etienne Jr. The two wingers don’t have a lot of minutes playing alongside one another. In 2020, in three regular season matches, Diaz and Etienne both started. There isn’t much statistically to take from their pairing, with one win, one loss and one draw. The fourth start came in MLS Cup Final victory against the Seattle Sounders.
Starting both wingers gives the Crew an advantage of speed. In the first leg, Diaz had multiple runs behind the Monterrey defense, but the chances didn’t have equally strong finishes as he had breaking through the line.
Santos played some of his best soccer last season during Zelarayan’s injuries. Form that, if continued for the duration of the season, was MVP level. That’s not to say that Santos benefits from running the creativity of the club, like a Zelarayan, but giving him more freedom to move gives Monterrey a different focal point in preparation.
The other possibility is Alexandru Matan. While he’s only logged 21 minutes in three matches since joining the team, anything is possible in a knock out match. Matan is small, but uses this elusively to break through defenses. He’s also patient with the ball at his feet. Moves like his give teammates time to find open areas.
Gyasi Zardes himself is a potential question. A shoulder problem kept him out of the weekend’s 0-0 draw against CF Montreal. Keeping him in Columbus makes sense, being early in the MLS season and with a more than capable backup at striker, gives him time to recover. Bradley Wright-Phillips fills that spot on Saturday, but the way he’s played in two starts and in substitution minutes makes Zardes’ possible absence hurt a little less.
In Leg 1, Wright-Phillips had a goal turned over by VAR on a microscopic offsides call on center back Josh Williams, who would have registered the assist. Against Montreal, Columbus’ best chances also came from direct, central runs by the England-native. Slightly mistimed passes turned his best chance offside too.
Finally, on the defense. Last Wednesday’s surprise of the pre-match Mensah’s name absent from the starting 11 or the bench. After the match, Porter shared that a hamstring injury kept him out, but he was hopeful to return. Columbus kept him out of the Montreal match but he has a strong chance for return Wednesday.
If his injury is worse than expected, one name showed that he’s ready to contribute on Saturday. Vito Wormgoor returned after an ankle injury sidelined him since July. In his return, Wormgoor commanded the backline for his 59 starting minutes. If Mensah is healthy, the safer option is center back pairing of him and Josh Williams, but Wormgoor brings strength and ability to read passing lanes in the defensive third.
Make your selections for who you think should start in this quick turnaround of matches. Massive Report will share our picks alongside the predicted starting XI of a site contributor.