The discussion around the Columbus Crew traveling to FC Monterrey has included feedback about referees, fines for specific feedback from head coach Caleb Porter and off-field questions surrounding injuries and yellow cards. Soon, that all goes away and what’s left is two teams facing off for a spot in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League.
Massive Report asked you to share who you wanted to start in the biggest matchup of this early 2021 season. The only non-injured name we asked you not to choose was a pretty big one, in midfielder Lucas Zelarayan. He’s missing the match due to yellow card accumulation.
Here is how you chose to line the Crew up.
What sticks out immediately is trust in newcomer Alexandru Matan. With Zelarayan’s absence, supporters selected him after only three appearances and 21 total minutes played. The choice was surprising over winger Derrick Etienne Jr. but his selection has merit. Matan is a creative, offensive, attacking player. In Leg 1, Columbus got into good positions, notably by winger Luis Diaz, but didn’t turn them into solid chances on goal.
Matan is also a potential unknown to Monterrey. That’s not to say that his film wasn’t studied but looking at his minutes and that he’s a newcomer, doesn’t make him the obvious selection for investing pre-match time into.
Playing the No. 10 is Pedro Santos, a role he played last season during Zelarayan’s absences for injury. On the right side of the offensive third is Diaz. The only piece of his game that isn’t benefiting the team is the one they’ll need the most tonight, scoring goals. Diaz makes strong runs, covers a lot of the field and finds holes in the defense. Although he has an assist on the year, he currently lacks patience or creativity.
On defense, Jonathan Mensah returns to the field tonight. A hamstring injury kept him off the field in the Crew’s last two matches. His name’s inclusion in the starting 11 will bring a huge boost in defense. Having his leadership on the field can help fill gaps that Monterrey was able to exploit in Leg 1.
Let’s see how this lineup compares to the selection from a Massive Report writer.
Starting in the offensive half, Etienne is growing in front of the eyes of Columbus supporters. He’s showing his adaptability and flexibility, not only in the MLS Cup Final, where he scored a goal, but also in 2021. He played fullback when the team needed him against Real Esteli, where he teamed up with Diaz and gave the Nicaraguan side fits. In a match of this magnitude, Etienne and Diaz playing on opposite ends gives Monterrey a different kind of preparation. They both will make direct runs and open a Rayados’ defense that only has to keep Columbus off the scoreboard to move on.
Up front, forward Gyasi Zardes missed Saturday’s 0-0 draw against CF Montreal. In Leg 1 against Monterrey, the U.S. international had his shoulder popped out of place and Porter kept him out. It’s unknown if he is out for tonight’s match, but Bradley Wright-Phillips' selection in the Predicted XI is not just based on potential injury.
Wright-Phillips, for two straight matches, has made dangerous moves and had goals pulled back for offsides. His first start for the club, against Real Esteli, ended with his first goal for the Black & Gold. With the right timing, which will improve the more time he plays with his new teammates, those fouls will get replaced in the box score.
The MLS goal-scoring legend doesn’t just score goals either. Wright-Phillips brings tenacity to the field. When teammates are out of place or make errant passes, Wright-Phillips lets them know. His fire for scoring goals, and how he contributes throughout the offensive half, is an asset. Especially against a side that won’t pull their punches. Even if he doesn’t start, it’s hard to imagine him not getting minutes as a substitute, especially if the Crew needs to pull ahead late.
Defensively, Josh Williams and Mensah have the on-field time together in big matches. Starting the two makes sense. After Saturday’s performance though, Vito Wormgoor’s name in the starting 11 shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise. Wormgoor is a menacing defender that, when combined with Mensah, will have even more freedom to make key defensive plays. He was brought to Columbus for a reason, and if he’s healthy he’s making Porter’s decisions on the defensive backline harder to make.