The 2021 Columbus Crew has struggled with injuries all season long. In the last 11 games, the Black & Gold has had at least seven players out due to injury or international absence on nine separate occasions. With two full months left in the regular season, the defending MLS Cup champions look to be getting back some important players to make a push for a playoff spot.
Columbus head coach Caleb Porter gave an update on some of the injured players on the team with the road to recovery almost finished for three key members of the Black & Gold. This included defenders Josh Williams and Milton Valenzuela, along with striker Gyasi Zardes.
“Josh and Milton have been out 10 weeks,” Porter said this week. “Milton did three-quarters of the (Tuesday) training and Josh did the full training. Josh is probably the furthest along but, again, he has been out of 10 weeks. That’s a long time to be out.”
Williams has had a sporadic season of playing after an incredible 2020 campaign that earned him an MLS Cup winners medal. The Ohio native has played in just seven games this season and has yet to play a match since the final game at historic Crew Stadium on June 19. In the games Williams has started in, the Crew hasn’t conceded more than one goal with three clean sheets.
“He’s a center back and a center back subbing in for 30 minutes doesn’t help a ton,” said Porter. “We’re gonna have to build him up where he can start a game. We’re confident next week or so that he will be in that position. He could be a factor possibly as a cover guy for limited minutes.”
With Williams unlikely to start or play in Saturday’s game Orlando City SC, Vito Wormgoor and Aboubacar Keita will likely be the starting center backs. Captain and regular starter Jonathan Mensah is on international duty with Ghana until early next week. The good news is Williams could be good to go for an upcoming Crew stretch of three games in seven days.
Another player Porter is hoping to have for that stretch is left back Valenzuela.
“Milton we think needs a little bit more time,” said Porter. “Obviously, with the severity of his injury, as well as the re-injury that he has had with the hamstring, it’s good to see him getting closer. That is a positive.”
The last Black & Gold fans saw Valenzuela on the field was in the second half of the first-ever game at Lower.com Field on July 3. The Argentine has played just four matches in MLS play in 2021 and his absence has seen increased reps for Waylon Francis and Pedro Santos at left back. Valenzuela approaching full health comes at a key time for the the Crew with the playoff hunt in full force.
Another key player that has been missing is Zardes. Porter said “Gyasi is just two weeks out from a hamstring. He just did the very early part of the (Tuesday) session just possession. He hasn’t done a full training session yet.”
Zardes has scored four goals this season and is likely to return sometime this month.
It’s been a tough road for the Columbus players with injuries all over the pitch affecting rotation and lineup selection for nearly each and every game. With these three players getting closer to getting back on the pitch, and the rest of the team appearing to be healthy, it might just be exactly what the Crew needs to turn up the momentum towards another a return to the postseason.