The 2021 season didn’t go the way the Columbus Crew hoped. Coming off the team’s second-ever MLS Cup title, the expectation was to contend for yet another with a talented squad returning. Instead, the Black & Gold fell well short, failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Heading into 2022, the hope is the issues of a year ago are behind this Columbus team. The belief is that the Crew’s core is good enough to make another run, when healthy, and the additions of this offseason will put the Black & Gold back in contention for a postseason run.
Here is a preview of what to know about the Crew heading into the 2022 Major League Soccer season.
Columbus Crew (13-13-8 in 2021, 9th in the Eastern Conference, did not reach the playoffs)
Head coach: Caleb Porter
Key additions: Jalil Anibaba, Milos Degenek, James Igbekeme, Yaw Yeboah, Will Sands, Sean Zawadzki
Key losses: Harrison Afful, Liam Fraser, Aboubacar Keita, Milton Valenzuela, Vito Wormgoor, Bradley Wright-Phillips
Projected best XI: Eloy Room; Steven Moreira, Jonathan Mensah, Milos Degenek, Pedro Santos; Artur, Darlington Nagbe; Yaw Yeboah, Lucas Zelarayan, Derrick Etienne Jr.; Gyasi Zardes
Biggest offseason move: On paper, the answer is Yaw Yeboah. The Ghanaian winger was brought in to help provide an offensive spark that the Crew lacked a year ago. In 2021, Columbus scored 46 goals from the run of play, but only four came from wingers. Based on the preseason, it appears Yeboah will slot right into the starting lineup for the Black & Gold.
Yeboah is a player that should quickly add to the Crew’s attack. He has no fear of dribbling at opponents and can create opportunities for himself and his teammates. He has proven he can both set up plays while also scoring on his own. Given that Pedro Santos is likely to feature more at left back than on the wing, Yeboah will be important for the Black & Gold’s offense going in 2022.
Best reason to pay attention: There was a lot of hype surrounding the Crew last year given the championship the season prior and the additions the club made. That hype disappeared due to the struggles Columbus had, but most of those struggles can be blamed on a rash of injuries throughout the year.
While Black & Gold fans shouldn’t expect a clean bill of health in 2022, it’s hard to imagine anything close to last season. To close last year, with most of the key players available, the Crew only lost twice in the team’s last 10 games. There remains plenty of talent on this roster, with players with championship experience still in their prime and looking to make up for what happened in 2021.
The one glaring weakness: If there’s one thing that’s going to cost this team in 2022, it’s a lack of depth at fullback. With Milton Valenzuela gone, 33-year-old Pedro Santos is going to be asked to move to the backline. On the other side, Steven Moreira looked good to end last season but played in just seven games at right back. There is also little in the way of depth with rookies Will Sands and Philip Quinton the only true backup fullbacks on the roster.
While Caleb Porter has talked about being more flexible with formations this season, the Black & Gold rely on their fullbacks to provide width in nearly every way they play. This means this position will need to step up and stay healthy throughout the year.
One fact to impress your friends: The Crew may have missed the MLS Cup playoffs last year after being crowned champions the season prior, but Porter has never missed the postseason in back-to-back years in his MLS tenure. Assuming this trend, which has a large sample size, holds true, the Black & Gold will be back in the playoffs making a run in 2022.
What do you make of Columbus heading into 2022? Let us know in the comment section below.