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Predicted XI: New York City FC

How will the Crew line up for a battle with the defending MLS Cup champions?

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last three matches, the Columbus Crew has done exactly what good teams do in Major League Soccer. The Black & Gold took two points from the last two away matches and three points from one home game. To add to the positivity, the Crew has scored five goals over the team’s last two matches, even with playmaker Lucas Zelarayan playing only 64 minutes as he returns from a right knee injury.

Columbus travels to Yankee Stadium on Saturday to face the defending MLS Cup champion New York City FC, who is also on a heater. Over their last four matches, NYCFC has gone 3-0-1, all while scoring 14 goals over that span. The Crew backline will be tested as the likes of Valentin Castellanos, Talles Magno and Thiago Andrade make up one of the most deadly attacks in MLS.

Head coach Caleb Porter will have an interesting decision to make against the Pidgeons, as Zelarayan is fit to start for the first time since April 16 against Orlando City SC. Due to Zelarayan’s absence, Porter was forced into a formation change, opting for a more defensive 4-3-3 with Darlington Nagbe, Artur and Aidan Morris all manning the midfield.

Will Porter go back to the Black & Gold’s usual 4-2-3-1 or will he stick with the 4-3-3 that has been successful over the last few weeks? All of this speculation heightens the anticipation for the lineup announcement Saturday night.

With all of the formation speculation in mind, here is who Massive Report believes will start for Columbus Saturday at NYCFC:

Despite discussions surrounding a possible formation change and tinkering with different formations throughout the week, Porter opts to return to the 4-2-3-1. The 4-2-3-1 sees Zelarayan slot into a familiar role in the attacking midfield, as opposed to the False 9 role, which will allow the Armenian international to get his sea legs back in a position he has thrived in for years.

Porter could opt for a short leash when it comes to his formation choice, however. If the head coach sees something in the first half that he doesn’t like, anticipate a formation change at the break.

In addition to the return of Zelarayan, two other individuals will make their return to the starting 11 in center back Milos Degenek and right back Steven Moreira.

Degenek returns from the start for the first time since April 23 at Sporting Kansas City when he was subbed off in the 87th minute with a left thigh injury. Veteran Josh Williams has stepped into Degenek’s place aside Jonathan Mensah in the last three matches and has been an adequate replacement, with Williams’ major highlight coming from an assist against D.C. United. However, it is important that Degenek slide back into the starting role as he and Mensah are still in the early stages of their partnership.

Moreira returns to the right back position and Derrick Ettienne Jr. will move back up to right wing with the Frenchman’s return. Etienne will look to repeat his multi-assist performance against the New England Revolution last and Moreira is back in his rightful spot as the starting right back on the comfortable natural grass of Yankee Stadium.