It has been a tough May for the Columbus Crew. A trip to the New England Revolution, last year's Supporters’ Shield winner, was followed by a road game against the defending MLS Champions, New York City FC. Last week LAFC, the top team in MLS this year, came to Lower.com Field. All but one of those games — at New England — ended in defeat.
Head coach Caleb Porter’s road woes have been well documented, but the Black & Gold have had decent results away to Atlanta United. Last season, Columbus won a game 1-0 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and Crew fans will remember Zack Steffen’s heroic performance in the penalty kick shootout during the 2017 MLS Cup playoffs.
That is where the Crew heads this weekend, looking to get back to winning ways with a first victory on the road in 2022.
Columbus needs to find goals, having been shut out six times in the team’s last eight matches. Porter has lately moved to a 4-3-3 formation, away from the 4-2-3-1 he normally plays. This formation was used mostly when playmaker Lucas Zelarayan was unfit to start, but Porter has fit Zelarayan in the lineup, as was the case in the NYCFC game.
This is a useful lineup for the Black & Gold as it allows them to field more players in the midfield, which is a strength of this squad. Zelarayan can fill in as an inverted left winger or a False 9, although the Argentine is at his best in an attacking midfield position. Expect Columbus to play this formation if Zelarayan, who was questionable this week and wasn’t in training on Friday, is held out for injury.
Here is a look at how Massive Report predicts the Crew to line up against the Five Stripes:
Other than the lost to Detroit City FC in the U.S. Open Cup, the Black & Gold have not lost a game that Aidan Morris has started this season. Porter needs to find a way to get Morris on the field, and with Artur and Darlington Nagbe ahead of him on the depth chart, a 4-3-2-1 makes that difficult. A 4-3-3 formation allows Columbus to play Morris in the middle, providing aggression and defensive support as Nagbe and Artur push up field.
If Zelarayan is out, the Crew will look to play less in possession and counter attack Atlanta. Winger Derrick Etienne Jr. has shown good awareness in quick transition moments and can get behind the defense. United has suffered from many injuries on the team’s backline as well as in central midfield this year and attacking directly and at speed should put the Five Stripes under pressure.
Center back Milos Degenek should return to the starting lineup for Josh Williams. Reports coming out of Atlanta are hopeful that Josef Martinez will return to the squad from injury this week. Martinez has been one of the best forwards in MLS when healthy and Jonathan Mensah and Degenek will need to avoid any mistakes to keep him or Thiago Almada off the score sheet in this battle.