The Columbus Crew roster continues to fill out even as the season gets rolling. The center back position has not been as solid as head coach Caleb Porter and the squad would have liked last season and early this year, considering center back Jonathan Mensah played in every single game of the 2020 season.
When the Crew signed free agent Vito Wormgoor ahead of the 2020 season, the team hoped to increase depth on the backline. Wormgoor only made it through two games, suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the Crew’s match against FC Cincinnati in the MLS is Back Tournament Last July. He underwent surgery with a recovery time of 4-6 months.
What the Black & Gold saw out of Wormgoor was promising and the team and fans alike have been anxiously awaiting his return, which came on Saturday in the draw against CF Montreal.
“It felt good to be back,” Wormgoor said after playing 59 minutes. “It was hard, but I was excited.”
The defender said he wishes the team could have come away with a better result and he wasn’t very pleased with his overall performance. However, it was a step in the right direction as he has continuously noticed his recovery time decreasing.
Porter, understandably, is excited to have Wormgoor available again and looks forward to when he is fully healthy and able to play 90 minutes.
“He looks really good in training and it’s great to see because he’s a good player,” the head coach said. “When we signed him, we signed him to be a key guy for us. So, we’re happy that he’s finally getting back.”
In Wormgoor’s absence, Porter was able to test the depth of the position and see what else he had in his arsenal. What stood out most was veteran Josh Williams.
Williams is now in his 10th season with the Black & Gold and 13th overall in MLS. Last year, Williams played in 12 of the team’s 23 games in the regular season, starting 11. That number likely would have been higher if not for a late-season MLS suspension of undisclosed reasons. He also started four of the team’s MLS Cup playoff matches, including the final where he lifted the trophy for the first time in his career.
“Josh last year, I thought he really capitalized on the opportunity that he was given when Vito went down with the injury,” Porter said. “He was outstanding and a big part of our success.”
Porter said that over Williams’ career, the only thing that has been lacking has been consistency, which he has shown over the course of the last year.
With Jonathan healthy, both Williams and Wormgoor available and third-year player Aboubarcar Keita performing well, the Crews feels confident knowing the depth the team now has at center back.
“It’s a good feeling to have Vito back,” said right back Harrison Afful. “[The backline] makes sure we help each other. Anytime somebody’s in a bad situation we make sure we step up.”
“He’s a very good player and we have very good center backs,” winger Pedro Santos added. “I think for the team, it’s important because we have a lot of games and we can rotate.”
The Crew has six more games in the month of May with several coming within three days of each other. It is in those times that a deep roster is most important. With Williams, Wormgoor, Jonathan and Keita on the roster, Porter should never be lost for a center back on a backline that is yet to concede a goal in MLS play. It will be a welcome break for Jonathan who played every game of the 2020 season and has recently dealt with a hamstring issue.
The standard will be high for all four players as each is a top-notch defender.
“I think we have a good group of defenders and we need to push each other every day and raise the level,” Wormgoor said.