For the first seven matches of the Major League Soccer season, predicting the starting 11 for the Columbus Crew was relatively easy. Outside of one swap at forward and the occasional switch at the winger role, head coach Caleb Porter kept close to the same starting group on the field.
After an injury to midfielder Lucas Zelarayán and the Black & Gold trading forward Gyasi Zardes to the Colorado Rapids, it’s become a bit more difficult. In the last two matches, Columbus switched from the team’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3, adding more of a presence in the midfield and removing Zelarayán’s role of offensive facilitator.
While it came with adjustment, the results speak for themselves. After a three-match losing streak where the Crew didn’t score a single goal, even with Zelarayán, the Black & Gold are on a two-match unbeaten streak, scoring three goals in the process.
It’s this environment that Massive Report enters to predict this week’s lineup. Here’s how we think the team will look to start against the New England Revolution.
On Friday, Porter said that Zelarayán wouldn’t start on Saturday but would see expanded minutes, more than the 20 he received in Columbus’ 3-0 victory against D.C. United last week. Even if Zelarayán was going to start, there’s a strong case to make that keeping the new-look formation and lineup is the way to go.
Porter has shown his fondness for the versatility and skill of midfielder James Igbekeme. There might come a time when Zelarayán fully returns that he plays on the left wing with Igbekeme flanking the right. Also, there’s even a chance that Zelarayán could move into Miguel Berry’s forward position as a False 9, if Porter sees a better chance at scoring with the Argentine and two wingers on the field.
In other words, Zelarayán could play as both a striker and also sink back and play more of an attacking midfield role to confuse opponents. It’s a role that Zelarayán’s played internationally with Armenia.
On the left, Derrick Etienne Jr.’s goal on Saturday puts him back in a more secure starting position after Porter started him on the bench against Sporting Kansas City on April 23. At forward, Berry continues in the starting position, looking for his first goal since Feb. 26, in the opening match of the season.
The central midfield features three familiar names in Darlington Nagbe, Artur and Aidan Morris. If the 4-3-3 formation continues, only an injury would take one of these three out of the starting three midfield.
Defense is where there are questions. Center back Miloš Degenek suffered a thigh injury against Kansas City and missed Saturday’s match against United. Degenek is as listed questionable, but there’s little chance of Porter starting him back from an injury on the turf of Gillette Stadium. Josh Williams is the clear starting choice above Degenek at center back.
Fullback Pedro Santos’ name is written in ink on the Crew starting 11, but the right side now has questions with Steven Moreira sustaining a thigh injury of his own. Marlon Hairston is next on the depth chart and played well coming in for Moreira in the first half of last Saturday’s victory. At training on Friday, Moreira was on the field, but training on his own with a trainer. That means it might be another week or so before the Frenchman sees the field for the Crew.
Who do you think will start on Saturday? Share your starting 11 in the comments or on the Massive Report Twitter page.