The international break was a much-needed breather for the Columbus Crew, with Columbus losing the team’s Most Valuable Player candidate Lucas Zelarayán for a week or two and only obtaining five out of a possible nine points in its last three matches. However, not every player was on break, as four members of the Crew were on international duty, playing for spots in the World Cup, the African Cup of Nations and in international friendlies.
Defender Miloš Degenek played for Australia, with a chance at automatic World Cup qualification if all went well. Winger Yaw Yeboah was on the bench for Ghana in a winner goes to the World Cup clash against Nigeria. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr. played in an international friendly for Haiti. Crew 2 defender Abdi Mohamed was selected to take part in Somalia’s AFCON qualifier against Eswatini.
Degenek came into the international break with a guaranteed third-place playoff match with the Socceroos but was hoped to secure Australia an automatic spot in the 2022 World Cup. However, to do so, the country could not lose either of its two games. Unfortunately, the Socceroos faced the top two teams in their group, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
Australia lost their first match against Japan 2-0. Degenek played the full 90 minutes and performed well enough, but the entire defense struggled against Japan’s overlapping play and pressing.
The final score could have been uglier than what it was, as Japan was the far better team on the night with 13 shots inside the penalty box.
Because the next game after Saudi Arabia did change anything in terms of qualification, Australia sent Degenek back to Columbus, avoiding any possibility of missing the team’s playoff match against UAE in June, with the winner taking on Peru to win a spot in the 2022 World Cup. Australia ultimately lost to Saudi Arabia 1-0.
Yeboah was the other player on international duty fighting for a World Cup qualification in the Confederation of Africa Football’s playoff. His Ghana side faced Nigeria twice in a week in an anticipated two-legged affair. The first match left something to be desired, as the game ended 0-0, and Yeboah was not featured.
The winger did not feature in the second leg either, but can still walk away happy from the result as the match was much more thrilling. Nigeria controlled possession and had more chances, but ultimately, the away goal was enough to put Ghana through as the game ended 1-1.
Now, all Yeboah has to do is focus on his play for the Crew and, with a great year, could see himself featuring in multiple matches at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. There’s a chance fellow Crew member Jonathan Mensah is at the World Cup as well, despite him not being called up for these qualifiers, if he too performs well for the Black & Gold this season.
One of the best players for Columbus so far this year, Etienne, started for his Haiti side against Guatemala on March 27th in a friendly. Unfortunately, Haiti walked away with a 2-1 loss despite taking an early 1-0 with a 23rd minute goal. Guatemala fired back to tie the game right before halftime with a 44th minute goal and minutes later with a goal in stoppage time right before the halftime whistle.
Etienne was subbed off in the 74th minute for Ashkanov Apollon, giving the winger some valuable international minutes but not running him the entire game.
A new signing for Crew 2’s squad, Mohamed represented Somalia this week. Somalia was not playing in a World Cup qualifier, rather the 2023 African Cup of Nations qualifier in the preliminary round. Somalia has been on a terrible run of form, winning just one game in the team’s last five matches, with the one win coming from just one leg of an ultimately defeated two-leg contest against Zimbabwe.
That form spilled over into the two-legged matchup with Eswatini, as Somalia lost both games by an aggregate score of 5-1. Abdi did not start either game, and there isn’t any information available yet on if he came on during the matches.
Unfortunately, Abdi’s Crew 2 squad did not walk away with a victory in its first-ever MLS NEXT Pro match against Inter Miami II, losing 2-0 last Saturday.