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Predicted XI: Toronto FC

Is there heavy squad rotation in store for the battered and bruised Black & Gold in Toronto?

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Real Salt Lake Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew travels to BMO Field to take on Toronto FC for the Black & Gold’s first midweek match of the MLS season. This is the second installment of the Trillium Cup in the 2022 campaign, with Columbus taking the first matchup 2-1 at home in only the third game of the season. However, this is not the same Toronto team that visited Field back in March.

That Toronto team was still looking to find its identity in only the team’s third competitive match under head coach Bob Bradley. Fast forward to the present and the Reds are red hot. TFC has lost only one game over its last seven in all competitions, and has won two matches in the last week, including a 4-0 stomping of rival CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship semifinal.

The Crew will have its hands full and likely will be happy earning a point on the road, especially considering the fact that the Black & Gold are still black and blue. The injury report is a little thinner than it was for Saturday’s match at Real Salt Lake, as it no longer features Pedro Santos or Will Sands. However, the Crew will still be without Artur (right lower leg), and Lucas Zelarayan (left thigh), Marlon Hairston (right thigh), Yaw Yeboah (left ankle), Erik Hurtado (right foot), and Derrick Etienne Jr. (right leg) are all listed as questionable.

With all of the above to consider, here is who Massive Report believes will start in the 39th installment of the Trillium Cup:

In his press conference Tuesday, head Caleb Porter discussed the health and status of Hurtado, Etienne Jr., Zelarayan and Kevin Molino. Porter first mentioned that he believes Molino, who missed last match with an illness, should be good to go Wednesday night, but the Crew will still build him up off the bench.

In his discussion of Etienne Jr., Hurtado and Zelarayan, Porter mentioned that they were all game-time decisions, but in reading body language and voice inflection it seemed as though Porter was the most confident in the return of Zelarayan. In fact, Massive Report’s Patrick Murphy, who attended Tuesday’s training, noted that the Argentinian playmaker was back training with the first team.

Assuming Zelarayan returns, the Black & Gold will likely revert back to the team’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, which has been Columbus’ primary formation under Porter. A return to the 4-2-3-1 will allow Zelarayan to regain his sea legs in his most comfortable position. However, do not be surprised that if forward Miguel Berry struggles to get going in the first half, he makes way for a midfielder and Zelarayan is pushed into a False 9 role.

It’s also important to consider that when a team has to play three matches in nine days, it is usually assumed that there will be some squad rotation. However, in his comments Tuesday, Porter did not seem too worried about rotating those players who have not been nagged by injuries. For those players dealing with injuries, Porter mentioned that he is keeping an eye on 3-5 players for squad rotation.

The individual most primed to be rotated is Santos. The Portuguese played well at left back, despite picking up an injury on May 28 at Atlanta United, which caused him to miss the match at home against Charlotte FC. However, with the return of Will Sands, the Crew would be smart to place Santos on the bench to ensure he is more than ready for Sunday’s clash against the Philadelphia Union.

The Crew will hope to earn at least another point Wednesday night to make for a successful two-match road trip.