After two straight losses, the Columbus Crew returns to Lower.com Field on Saturday. The Black & Gold hope to forget their unlucky 1-0 losses, each off clear mistakes of a slip and dropped ball, to quell frustration and add a win to the standings.
Saturday’s match doesn’t get any easier than the last two. After facing two strong playoff-caliber teams in Nashville SC and the Philadelphia Union, Columbus welcomes the second-place team in the Eastern Conference, Orlando City SC.
So far this year, Orlando has played one more match than the Crew and sits three points ahead. A win from the Black & Gold puts them level on points and likely in a top-three spot in the East.
After falling short of the MLS Cup playoffs in the first five years of the team’s existence, the Lions made the postseason each of the past two seasons. Also, even after losing their front three in Nani, Daryl Dike and Chris Mueller to European transfers, Orlando has bounced back and, according to head coach Caleb Porter, are more dangerous than last year.
What does all of that mean for the lineup on Saturday? Massive Report takes a stab at what the starting 11 will look like in this week’s Predicted XI.
As you can see, not a lot has changed for the Crew this week, but for good reason. The emotional decision following two matches is to switch things up and try to fix what’s broken. But Columbus is doing a lot well and that doesn’t mean there are logical changes to be made.
Because of this, it doesn’t feel like there will be any changes to the lineup. Porter and the players are six matches into a 34-game season and there’s no sort of panic setting in on or off the field.
The first is up front. Both forwards Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes have each seen the field this season in every match but Berry’s started five games. He’s clearly the favorite for Porter week after week following preseason and the early six matches of the season where Porter said it would go down to how well they’re performing.
Neither forward has scored a goal since the Black & Gold’s trip to the San Jose Earthquakes in Week 2. Berry and midfielder Lucas Zelarayán have strong chemistry and Columbus has an added benefit this week of playing an Orlando side without center back Antonio Carlos, who’s out three to four months with a hamstring injury. It’s an area that Berry could exploit early in the match as OCSC continues to work in new personnel.
On the right wing is the other obvious place for discussion. Outside of Columbus’ loss to Nashville, Yaw Yeboah’s seen five starts over Luís Diaz, who is questionable with a back injury. Porter could opt for Diaz, who has more experience against Orlando, but going off the coach’s luxury of being able to start a similar group of healthy players this season, Yeboah’s still learning the league and playing a top team helps lower the learning curve.
A less obvious place of discussion is at center back. Jonathan Mensah and Miloš Degenek are the likely starters, but Mensah joined Thursday’s media availability with his calf on ice. Mensah downplayed the ice, chalking it up to recovering from training. Also, he walked on the leg fine.
The wrinkle comes in with Josh Williams’ return to play. Williams played 65 minutes in Crew 2’s victory against Philadelphia Union 2 on Sunday. Degenek’s play has him as the clear starter, but there’s something to be said about getting rest.
Center back isn’t like a fullback role where someone is bolting up and down the field all match, but Degenek joined directly from the European calendar, is competing for a spot in the World Cup and hopes to play this winter at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
By the end of the year, Degenek will likely have played a year and a half straight of 90-minute matches. Does that mean the Black & Gold will start letting him rest so early in the season? Not really, but it’s something to keep on the radar as the season moves on.
On the field, Mensah and Degenek haven’t personally allowed a goal in two matches. Set piece defending has improved and, outside of a three-goal match against San Jose, haven’t given up multiple goals in a match all season.