Last week, the Columbus Crew returned to action following a three-week hiatus due to the international break and managed to earn a 1-1 draw against expansion side Charlotte FC. Head coach Caleb Porter said following the contest that he thought it was “two points dropped for us” following the draw.
It’s been a disappointing start to the campaign for the Crew, as the Black & Gold have amassed just 17 points through 14 games played and sit three points back of a spot to qualify for the 2022 MLS Cup playoffs. Despite the lackluster start, help is on the way as the Crew announced earlier this week that it has completed a club-record transfer of Cucho Hernandez from Watford.
Before the fanfare can begin for the Colombian striker, there is still business to attend to as the Crew travel to Sandy, Utah, to compete against a red-hot Real Salt Lake side that is unbeaten at Rio Tinto Stadium and tasted defeat just once in its last five outings.
While not ideal, the Crew injury report did get a bit thinner this week as captain and defender Jonathan Mensah has been cleared to return to action following a scary head injury suffered while on duty with the Ghanaian National Team. Midfielder Artur continues to recover from a lower leg injury suffered during the Atlanta United game back on May 28.
The Crew has listed midfielder Derrick Etienne Jr. (right leg), Marlon Hairston (right thigh), Erik Hurtado (right foot), Will Sands (right knee), Pedro Santos (right thigh), Yaw Yeboah (left ankle), and Lucas Zelarayan (left thigh) as questionable for Saturday’s contest.
With this information in mind, here is who Massive Report believes will take the field in Sandy on Saturday evening:
One of the main knocks against Crew head coach Caleb Porter is that he generally sticks to the same 4-2-3-1 formation and was reluctant to make changes. Last week, he shrugged off that notion and faced Charlotte with a 3-5-2 which featured a high press from forwards Erik Hurtado and Miguel Berry and yielded the Crew its lone goal of the contest.
Porter made some coaching adjustments and finished the contest in a 4-3-3 as he attempted to lead the Black & Gold in its quest to capture all three points.
Last week the 3-5-2 yielded opportunities so it's likely that Columbus will go back to the well and try again. Columbus will have a difficult task looking to upset RSL, who have lost just one of its last 10 home matches to the Crew going 6-0-3 in the process. The last time these two teams clashed in Sandy, Utah came back in July 2019, so it’s been a minute.
Hurtado seems to have found his footing as a member of the Black & Gold. The 31-year-old forward hasn’t been the answer to the departed Gyasi Zardes but has been a suitable backup as he’s led the Columbus attack with timely goals this season. Berry has looked okay in spots but was noticeably struggling during last week’s contest with Charlotte.
Two of the stronger midfielders last week for Columbus were James Igbekeme and Aidan Morris. The duo enjoyed strong outings as Igbekeme drove the offense and Morris assisted with defensive responsibilities. Fellow midfielder Darlington Nagbe was quiet but had a beautiful pass with the outside of his foot that generated a quality scoring opportunity for the Crew.
Defensively, Jalil Anibaba will give way to Jonathan Mensah at center back as he returns from injury and looks to play the central role of the three defenders, assisting Milo Degenek or Josh Williams should they find themselves in trouble. Goalkeeper Eloy Room will direct traffic in the defensive third and serves as the last line of defense against a squad that has tallied 20 total goals this season.