Through the first four matches of the 2022 Major League Soccer season, the Columbus Crew is undefeated and sits in second place in the Eastern Conference. The Black & Gold have come screaming out of the gate, scoring an average of 2.5 goals per match so far in this young campaign. The Crew will look to keep the momentum going at home Saturday against Nashville SC. However, it may be difficult to match the level of offensive output as the status of playmaker Lucas Zelarayan remains up in the air.
This week’s counterparts have had a bit of a slow start to their season. Nashville, who start the team’s season on an eight-match road trip before the team’s new stadium opens on May 1, has taken only four points from the first four matches. In addition, despite an attacking core that consists of Hany Mukhtar, C.J. Sapong, Ake Loba and Randall Leal, Nashville has struggled to score goals, with only three goals this season.
Jake Morris and Sean Zawadzki are no longer listed on the injury report for this week’s match but they are replaced by Zelarayan (right knee) who is listed as questionable. Three individuals remain on the injury report from the last match as Josh Williams (left thigh) remains questionable and Kevin Molino (right knee) and Isaiah Parente (illness) remain out.
With all that in mind, here is how I believe the Black & Gold will lineup Saturday against Nashville SC:
As mentioned above, Zelarayan remains questionable following a knee injury he sustained in the last match against the New York Red Bulls. The international break came at a great time, as the Armenian international was able to rest up and not miss an additional match. However, the smart money is on Caleb Porter electing to not start Zelarayan against Nashville. In his media availability Friday, Porter stated that Zelarayan took part in warmups and has come along throughout the week but “it will be tight” for him to go Saturday.
Following the Crew’s hot start, there is no reason to rush the reigning MLS Player of the Month, as the season is still young and the tradeoff of missing one match is greater than further damaging his knee.
With Zelarayan sidelined, I expect Porter to turn to Derrick Etienne Jr. to man the attacking midfield position. The Haitian international has started the season on a scorcher, registering two goals and two assists from the left wing and solidifying himself as a regular in the starting 11. His excellent run of form and experience as an attacking midfielder as a member of the Haitian National Team should make Porter and Crew supporters comfortable with Etienne manning the midfield, at least for one match.
Following Etienne’s move to attacking midfielder, Alexandru Matan will slide into the vacated spot on the left wing. Matan has registered only five minutes for the Black & Gold so far this season, but that is likely due more to Etienne’s excellent form than anything the Romanian has shown Porter in training. Although Matan was only on the field for three minutes against the Red Bulls, he was instrumental in the buildup to Darlington Nagbe’s goal that saw the Crew steal a point late on the road.
The Crew will need someone to step up in Zelarayan’s absence, and this lineup gives them the best chance for three points at home.