The Columbus Crew will finally return to the pitch this Saturday against the Chicago Fire in the last-ever match at historic Crew Stadium. For the first two months of this Major League Soccer season, the defending MLS Cup champions have dealt with multiple injuries. The three-week international break has helped players such as winger Kevin Molino and fullback Marlon Hairston get healthier but multiple first-team regulars could miss Saturday’s farewell match, including one starter who will certainly be out.
The biggest absence will be goalkeeper Eloy Room who will be forced to miss Saturday’s match due to a mandatory quarantine period. Room has just spent the last three weeks on international duty with Curaçao for FIFA World Cup qualifiers. Curacao was eliminated in the second round by Panama by a 2-1 aggregate score. The other players on international duty were Derrick Etienne Jr. and Liam Fraser, who don’t have to quarantine because they received the COVID-19 vaccination.
Head coach Caleb Porter spoke to the media about Room’s absence as well as a multitude of other injuries on Wednesday afternoon.
“Eloy won’t be available for the match because he has to quarantine when he comes back in,” Porter said. We’ll see where Derrick is at, we’ll see where Liam is at. (Artur) has been struggling so we’re a little light in the holding mid position. Waylon (Francis) and Milton (Valenzuela) are coming back in so we’re a little light at the left back position. Luis Diaz has a little bit of a knee, Derrick’s been gone so we’re a little light at the winger position. Obviously, with Eloy not being able to play we’re a little light there.”
The list is long with questionable players with Porter saying the Crew has “seven or eight” guys who aren’t certain to play. The match marks the first time Room hasn’t been in goal for the Black & Gold in MLS play since the 2020 Eastern Conference Final against the New England Revolution. His likely replacement will be MLS veteran and Ohio native Evan Bush with Eric Dick and Matt Lampson available as well.
While this is not ideal news, the bright side is many of the players that were out for the first part of the season are getting fitter.
“We have some guys who are close to coming back,” said Porter. “We’ll see if they are available or are close so that’s good. We are playing a window where we have three games in one week so we’re going to need bodies to rotate.”
After the Crew’s match on Saturday, the team will travel for a June 23 road game against the Philadelphia Union and then go to Texas for Columbus’ first-ever clash against Austin FC four days later on June 27. With regular starters like Artur, Valenzuela and Diaz dealing with injuries, it will be another period where rotation and player management will be key.
“We don’t want to take on more injuries,” said Porter. “I think, it’s floating under the radar, but we have more injuries than anyone in the league this year. We’ve managed it pretty well and to this point, the depth helps.”
The depth has been tested early with the Crew having to juggle CONCACAF Champions League and MLS play from late April to mid-May. Even without Champions League, this squad has been hobbled but is still just three points back of second place in the Eastern Conference.
Porter is confident in his squad and won’t be taking this game against 13th place Chicago lightly.
“I believe in my team and I believe in the depth we have,” he said.