The Columbus Crew enters the 2022 Major League Soccer season feeling as though this group has something to prove. Coming off a dominating MLS Cup playoff run in 2020, punctuated by a 3-0 stomping of the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup Final, no fan or pundit anticipated the Crew failing to qualify for the playoffs in 2021. However, due to poor play, losing players to international duty and a myriad of injuries, Columbus failed to make the postseason.
That season has come and gone and 2022 is here, the moment all Crew fans have been waiting for. The slate is clean and the Black & Gold are here to prove that they belong in the conversation with the league’s best.
Columbus welcomes the Vancouver Whitecaps to Lower.com Field to start the 2022 season and for the first time since the aforementioned 2020 MLS Cup playoff run, head coach Caleb Porter should have close to his best, if not his best, starting 11 available for selection.
Here is the Massive Report Predicted XI heading into the clash with the Whitecaps:
The biggest question mark throughout the week has been the status of defender Josh Williams and if he will be available for selection on Saturday. Friday, during his media availability, Porter announced that Williams has been diagnosed with a grade 1 quad strain sustained in the Carolina Challenge Cup finale against the Charleston Battery and that he should be out of action for a couple of weeks.
Following this news, expect the newly-signed Miloš Degenek to slide into Williams’ place and get his first start in his first competitive match for the Black & Gold. This is a big opportunity for the Australian international, being thrust into starting duty sooner than he may have planned. However, this is a chance for Degenek to prove that he should be featured next to Jonathan Mensah week in and week out.
In the midfield, it will be nice to see Artur’s name in the lineup again. Artur, who last appeared in a competitive match for the Crew on May 29, 2021 against Toronto FC, should be Porter’s first choice to feature next to Darlington Nagbe in the midfield.
Don’t expect Artur to go the full 90 minutes in this game. Sixty hard, injury-free minutes, in which the Brazilian can gradually work himself back into form, is exactly what the doctor ordered.
One last position of question is left wing. Derrick Etienne Jr. got the nod in the “dress rehearsal” against the Battery, which seems to be a clear indicator that he is first choice to start the year. Since Etienne arrived in Columbus prior to the 2020 season, he has been one of Porter’s favorites and should be the starter at left wing until someone steps up and takes it from him. Etienne has blinding pace and a tenacious work rate but lacks polish in the final third. He will need to hit the ground running to start the season, because Alexandru Matan is waiting in the wings (no pun intended) to step into Etienne’s spot in the starting 11.