The age-old sports adage is that “defense wins championships.” Applying that same wisdom to the 2021 Columbus Crew seems to hit the spot at this stage of the Major League Soccer season. With players like goalkeeper Eloy Room and offensive weapons like Kevin Molino, Luis Diaz, Derrick Etienne and Gyasi Zardes expected to be gone on international duty, there was justified cause for concern that the Crew would have a rough summer. It’s been anything but rough, looking at the Eastern Conference table.
Columbus has now gone six matches without a loss, after the team’s 1-0 victory against Atlanta United last week. The results have the Black & Gold sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. In that stretch, which included four draws, considering the firepower missed up front, these results beat the alternative of needing to make up a massive amount of points when role players return.
Friday, the Crew heads to Yankee Stadium to take on New York City FC. In that matchup of the fifth and sixth place Eastern Conference teams, Massive Report wants you to choose who should start, which has been a difficult task as of late. This week, selections become at least slightly easier.
The bad news for Costa Rica, and the team’s exit from the CONCACAF Gold Cup, is now good news for the Black & Gold. Diaz returns with his speed and ability to stretch opposing defenses and while he was back in training this week, it’s unknown if he will get the starting nod. His minutes may mirror one of two recent returns to the lineup.
In Columbus’ 0-0 draw against Nashville SC, Molino returned as a substitute. Against Atlanta, Molino started, playing the full 90 minutes. The other option is Etienne. After Haiti was eliminated in the group stage, Etienne started against Nashville and played the second half against Atlanta. Either way, it’s likely that Diaz sees minutes against a tough New York City side.
Lucas Zelarayan has been a thorn in the side of City all season. He has three free kick goals against the Pigeons, all of which helped Columbus to two wins. Zelarayan didn’t start against Atlanta, but played the full second half. A start Friday seems likely.
On defense, since center back Aboubacar Keita came in for Vito Wormgoor, in the 57th minute against FC Cincinnati, the Crew has given up just one goal in 213 minutes. Expect Jonathan Mensah and the young Keita to continue their current partnership with uncertainty surrounding the return of Wormgoor and veteran Josh Williams.
Now it’s your turn to choose. Fill out your picks below and a Massive Report contributor will share your selections alongside their own predicted starting XI.
Check back before Friday night’s 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff to see who everyone picked in Massive Report’s Predicted XI. The match will air live on Bally Sports Ohio.