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Grading the 2022 Crew: Midfielders

MLS: Portland Timbers at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 Columbus Crew season is quickly fading away in many fans’ memories. That tends to happen when a team doesn’t make the MLS Cup playoffs for a second straight year. But we here at Massive Report are still reflecting on the year that was.

Recently, we’ve looked back at the team’s goalkeepers and defenders, delivering grades to each position. We now turn our attention to the midfield and evaluate how these players performed throughout 2022.

Central midfield

Players Considered: Darlington Nagbe, Artur, Aidan Morris, Sean Zawadski, James Igbekeme, Isaiah Parente and Marco Micaletto

The vast majority of the minutes at central midfield this year for the Black & Gold went to Nagbe, Artur and Morris, who have all established themselves as MLS-caliber players. In addition to that core, Zawadski played very well in his time with the first team in 2022, including a fantastic goal against Toronto FC. Zawadski, Parente and Micaletto all also shined with Crew 2 and there is excitement about a young core in the central midfield for the Columbus moving forward.

However, there is an argument to be had about the effectiveness of Nagbe this year. Compared to seasons past, Crew fans saw less and less of Nagbe in the attacking third and more miscues than before. Artur once again struggled with his health this past season, playing 24 games and starting 20. With the emergence of Morris, Artur started to become more of a luxury than a must-start player.

When Morris provides to the Black & Gold is an engine and work rate in the central midfield that Columbus really benefitted from in 2022. While Artur and Nagbe are certainly hard workers, they are a little bit smoother and have less bite defensively. It will be interesting to see what a new Columbus manager values in his central midfielders.

Central midfielders grade: B+

Attacking midfield

Players Considered: Lucas Zelarayan, Kevin Molino and James Igbekeme

Zelarayan is the whole equation in this position. The Crew’s No. 10 was the team’s best option in this position and one of the best in the whole league. Zelarayan had 10 goals and seven assists in 2022 and was the focal point for the Black & Gold attack for the majority of the year. Zelarayan outperformed his Expected Goals (xG) of 5.4 by a staggering five goals, indicating a bit of luck but also an incredible ability from outside the penalty box. In addition, Zelarayan’s Expected Assists (xA) was 8.4, indicating that he created another goal that his teammates failed to convert.

The issue with Zelarayan at times is he tries to do too much. This was especially evident when Columbus struggled in a match or was in the midst of a bad run of form. Zelarayan then takes too many touches or force passes and shots when he feels frustrated or pressure to produce for the Crew.

Molino and Igbekeme both played this role a few times in 2022 to little effect. Molino returned from yet another serious knee injury during the year but was never able to find his form of MLS seasons past. Igbekeme was on loan and will be returning to Real Zaragoza.

Attacking midfield grade: A-