The Columbus Crew returns from the international break for the team’s final three matches of the 2022 regular season. If the MLS Cup playoffs are still in the cards, three points is a must on Saturday night.
The New York Red Bulls come to Lower.com Field having already clinched a spot in the postseason. However, don’t expect this to mean that the Red Bulls will take their foot off the gas, as they look to cement themselves as the third seed in the Eastern Conference and hope to start playing their best soccer heading into the playoffs.
New York plays what many would consider “energy drink soccer” with players with endless motor and desire to press the opponent. The Black & Gold players will have to match Red Bulls’ intensity if they have any chance to come out of Saturday night’s match with a win.
There is good news for Columbus, as the players should feel well-rested coming off of the international break. Only three players, Lucas Zelarayan (Armenia), Milos Degenek (Australia), and Kevin Molino (Trinidad & Tobago), are coming off international duty.
Although they will be for the most part well-rested, the Crew will not be at full strength Saturday night. The Black & Gold will be without club captain Jonathan Mensah, as the center back continues to nurse a thigh injury he picked up on Sept. 13 at Inter Miami. In addition to Mensah, Cucho Hernandez is unavailable for selection, as the prolific Colombian forward is suspended for one match for using “offensive language” in the last game against the Portland Timbers.
With all of the above to consider, here is who Massive Report believes will start for Columbus Saturday night against the New York Red Bulls:
As mentioned above, Columbus is in a less-than-ideal situation without the team’s star striker for arguably the most important match of the season. However, expect head coach Caleb Porter to surprise some people with his selection at forward.
Porter will select Jacen Russell-Rowe to feature up top for the Crew. Although Russell-Rowe last featured for the first team on July 9 against the Chicago Fire, the young Canadian striker has still gotten plenty of run with Columbus Crew 2 in MLS NEXT Pro. Over nine matches for the second team since July 10, Russell-Rowe has tallied 13 goals and three assists, with seven of the 13 goals coming in the last two matches. Although the Candian lacks first-team experience, at least he knows what it is like to put the ball in the back of the net.
Another position of note is the left wing. Expect Porter to select Kevin Molino to feature on the left side for the third match in a row, as he seems to be finally finding his form, having scored a goal last time out against Portland. While he likely will never return to the heights he reached with Minnesota United, over the last two matches, the Trinidadian international has shown he still has plenty to give and can play a major role in the Columbus offense. With the inconsistencies of Derrick Etienne Jr., Molino has done well to provide a calming presence on the left wing.