The first third of this season has been quite the challenge for Caleb Porter. The Columbus Crew’s manager has had to juggle a congested match schedule early on, a bright, young star going down for the season and what seems like injury after injury.
Porter and the Black & Gold have done admirably well to keep the ship afloat using some pretty creative personnel decisions. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr spent a game at fullback, the versatile Pedro Santos played two games at left back, as well as played at every conceivable midfield position. It’s imaginable that Santos even stepped into a maintenance role, working on Lower.com Field’s concession stand systems over the week.
The next couple of weeks will only be more challenging as the Crew goes into a tough run of matches, starting with the Hell is Real Derby on Friday without some of the team’s most dependable starters. Between international duties in the Gold Cup and continual injuries, Columbus will be without 11 players for the foreseeable future.
With so many question marks, predicting a lineup is challenging. The Supporters’ XI voting for this match was one of the largest of the season. Here is how you, the supporters, voted for the starting lineup against FC Cincinnati.
Given the options, this is probably the most straight forward starting lineup available. With Eloy Room, Milton Valenzuela and Josh Williams all out, second-choice goalkeeper Evan Bush is reinforced by a fairly familiar backline of Waylon Francis, Vito Wormgoor, captain Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. Francis will assuredly be getting more time, as Valenzuela will be out four to six weeks with continued hamstring difficulties.
In the midfield, Marlon Hairston narrowly edged out Perry Kitchen to join Darlington Nabge at the defensive midfield spots.
Up front, undoubtedly the Crew’s thinnest area, things were very tight. Playmaker Lucas Zelaryan and wingers Alexandru Matan, and Santos were all far-and-away definitive choices. Replacing forward Gyasi Zardes proved to be a slightly more daunting task. With the additional option of using a “False 9,” there was nearly a three-way tie between Bradley Wright-Phillips, the newly retained Miguel Berry and either Zelarayan or Santos. In the end, the supporters chose a more traditional striker formation, using Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was listed as questionable on the injury report.
Any rivalry game is important, but with the Black & Gold holding onto playoff hopes for dear life, taking points out of Friday night’s match is very important. The Crew has over a week, and hopefully more training, to rest and work things out before the team welcomes New York CityFC to Lower.com Field. With the newly announced signing of forward Erik Hurtado, some more depth will be available soon.
For the Predicted XI, things got shaken up a bit:
Goalkeeper and the backline matches the Supporters’ XI, but with Wright-Phillips just coming back from injury, it is unlikely that he will be able to start and see out most, if not all, of the 90 minutes. In the Predicted XI, a 4-3-3 with a “False 9” is being used to bolster defense and allow the offensive playmakers available to run a little freer.
Nagbe and Hairston are backed by the defensive-minded Kitchen, who will help bolster the back, while Zelarayan plays the part of the “False 9,” ideally creating (and finishing) more offensive chances. Matan provides a lot of speed on the wing and Santos can utilize his versatility to cover on offense and defense.
Porter has had to get creative and hasn’t shied away from some unconventional lineup choices. They have the figurative finger in the dam but will need to start converting more one-point draws into three-point victories soon if the team has a chance to compete once the depth of this lineup returns.