The Columbus Crew laid the team’s first egg of the season at home against Nashville SC last Saturday. An early after a Pedro Santos slip saw Nashville take a 1-0 lead in the 28th minute and from that point forward, the visitors were on cruise control, maintaining a low block for the remainder of the match that the Black & Gold couldn’t break down.
Things don’t get any easier this week. In fact, they get more difficult. The Crew travels to Chester, Pennsylvania to square off against the red-hot Philadelphia Union. The Union, who sit atop the Eastern Conference, are unbeaten so far this year, taking 13 points from the team’s first five matches. Philadelphia is also riding a four-match winning streak, winning those four games by a combined score of 8-1.
It is not all doom and gloom, however, as Columbus still sits squarely in the early MLS Cup playoff picture. Additionally, the team is playing with a fairly clean bill of health. Both Lucas Zelarayan (who played against Nashville despite being listed as questionable on last week’s injury report) and Josh Williams no longer are dealing with issues. This is the first week of the season that Williams has not been listed on the injury report since hurting his thigh in a preseason friendly against the Charleston Battery. Kevin Molino (right knee) and Isaiah Parente (illness) remain listed as “out.”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at who head coach Caleb Porter is likely to start against the Union:
It's Week 6 in MLS and Crew supporters everywhere are sick of discussing who deserves to be the starting striker between Miguel Berry or Gyasi Zardes week in and week out. Stoking the frustration is the fact that neither player has done anything to separate themselves. Both Berry and Zardes have scored only one goal through five matches, with Berry’s goal coming off a wacky deflection in the first match of the season.
With all that being said, Porter would do well to start Zardes again this week against the Union. The American international received his first start of the year against Nashville after Berry did nothing to cement his spot up top for the Black & Gold. Zardes did not perform well against Nashville, but expecting greatness would have been unrealistic for a striker who has yet to be given an opportunity to find his form.
Berry received a run of games to start the season and Porter can now give Zardes the same, hoping the striker can separate himself as the starter.
The other question that remains is the center back pairing. As mentioned above, for the first time this season Williams’ name does not appear on the injury report, meaning he is likely fully available for selection in the starting 11. However, Porter is unlikely to shake things up on a backline that has played. Despite poor set piece defending, the defense has been a strength for the Crew. Milos Degenek continues to make strides one match at a time and has done enough to keep his starting position for the time being.
Interestingly, it is captain Jonathan Mensah who has been the weak link in the center back pairing through the first five matches. It’s hard to put a finger on what is wrong, but something looks off. Mensah seems timid and quick to get the ball off his feet, which is uncharacteristic of the Ghanaian. However, Porter will not sit Mensah, at least not until he strings together a much longer streak of poor performances.
The Black & Gold have their work cut out for them this week but this is a starting 11 that gives them their best chance to succeed.