For weeks, talk surrounding the Columbus Crew centered around injuries and inconsistent lineups. A six-match losing streak will do that to a team’s narrative. However, it’s a new week in the land of Black & Gold. Columbus won, in dramatic fashion, 3-2 against rival FC Cincinnati and three starters returned to training this week. Does that mean the Crew is back on the front foot? Not exactly.
Massive Report wants you to choose who you think should start for head coach Caleb Porter’s squad. Before you select this week’s Supporters’ XI, here are some things to consider.
Saturday, Columbus travels to Florida to play the Eastern Conference’s second-place Orlando City SC. On the training pitch this week were three starters from Columbus’ 2020 MLS Cup-winning campaign. On defense, center back Josh Williams and fullback Milton Valenzuela returned in some form. At the front of the offense, forward Gyasi Zardes also came back to the field.
None of the three sound ready to go quite yet, from Porter’s time with the media this week, but the closer a return for three mainstays, the better the Black & Gold’s chances are of securing a playoff spot in the final stretch of the regular season.
While the good news of players returning brings renewed hope, the FIFA international window of World Cup qualifying matches knocked the excitement down a few pegs.
Unavailable this week is the Crew’s captain and center back Jonathan Mensah, whose focus is on helping Ghana reach the World Cup. Also, at midfield, Liam Fraser will be away with Canada.
Mensah is an every-match starter whenn available and will be missed in a role that hasn’t had its fair share of consistency in 2021. Fraser came into the club this season on loan from Toronto, thought to be for depth, but has been elevated to a starter due to injuries. Fraser has excelled too, sliding between a defensive midfield role and center back.
At center back, three immediate options are Vito Wormgoor, Aboubacar Keita and Grant Lillard. Wormgoor and Keita are the most likely pairing to start. Both have taken turns starting next to Mensah, but only started one match together this season, a 0-0 draw against CF Montreal. Lillard came to the Crew in 2020 from Inter Miami but hasn’t registered a single minute in MLS regular season play.
The only situations where Wormgoor and Keita aren’t starting is if Williams if further along than expected or Porter has a different idea up his sleeve. The Ohio native was listed as questionable this week.
At fullback, Porter hasn’t chosen the same pair in back-to-back matches since Columbus’ trip to Austin and the Lower.com Field opening match back on June 27 and July 3. That pairing was Valenzuela and Afful. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag of Afful, Waylon Francis, Saad Abdul-Salaam and Pedro Santos.
At the winger position, it’s a four-man race between Derrick Etienne Jr., Luis Diaz, Alexandru Matan and the aforementioned Santos, who splits time between more defensive and offensive roles. Etienne has started the past two matches and Diaz has only started twice since Aug. 7. Matan brings energy as a substitute but hasn’t started since the Crew’s 1-0 victory against Atlanta United. Like the fullback position, it’s hard to tell where Porter will go in the offensive attack.
Forward isn’t any easier to decipher. With Zardes going down, Bradley Wright-Phillips received starts but hasn’t completely impressed supporters. On the other hand, FC Cincy killer Miguel Berry’s two substitute goals against the Hell is Real rivals last Friday will lead to a lot of frustration if his name isn’t penciled into the starting 11.
Make your picks and it’ll be compared to a predicted lineup from a contributor to Massive Report.