After years of two different coaches rolling out the same formation game after game, Columbus Crew fans finally are getting variety, and quite honestly it is an educated guess at what lineup head coach Caleb Porter will field against D.C. United. The 3-5-2 formation worked well enough for a few games and the 4-3-3 has been a decent formation without playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, but it does seem like a traditional 4-2-3-1 might work best for this team. All these formations should be more effective once striker Cucho Hernandez is in the regular starting 11, but the latter formation is what should be expected against United.
Yes, Hernandez did score from a 4-2-3-1, and yes, Derrick Etienne Jr. and Luis Diaz had amazing second half performances against the Chicago Fire last Saturday, but it all comes back to Zelarayan.
The Argentine has not found his footing in the 3-5-2 and the 4-3-3 formation is mostly used in Zelarayan’s absence. Once he was placed back into a central attacking role in the second half against the Fire, he came back to life and found Etienne and Diaz for the key pass to unlock the defense.
Contributing to the switch back to a 4-2-3-1 is the training knock that Milos Degenek picked up last week and Jonathan Mensah’s suspension for yellow card accumulation. With only two healthy center backs on the roster for the match against D.C., Porter will have to transition back to a four-man backline. A 4-3-3 is also possible.
While Diaz did have a wonderful game against Chicago, I do believe Porter will give Kevin Molino (or Yaw Yeboah) the start in this match. This would be a good position to manage minutes over two road games within a handful of days and a number of wingers are coming off various injuries, expect rotation here. Also, the Crew did bring in Molino to start over Diaz a year ago and will want to give him minutes to see if he can help the team later into the season or next season. Facing a reeling D.C. United squad that just lost 7-0 seems like as good a time as any to see what Molino has left in the tank.
Diaz could see time in the second half when Hernandez comes on. If Diaz can continue to establish a connection with Hernandez it could bode well for his minutes.
Hernandez will once again come off the bench again as he continues to get full match fitness. Forward Jacen Russell-Rowe since gets the nod over Erik Hurtado in this match. It will be interesting to see how playing with wingers on the senior team will affect Russell-Rowe’s game. This should give the young Canadian more support on both sides, allowing him to play more central and give Porter some game data points as he weighs his options for who will be Hernandez’s primary backup role.
A return to the 4-2-3-1 does see the Black & Gold taking Sean Zawadzki out in favor of wingers. With Artur still out, and with another game upcoming on the weekend, he should be rotated in for either Darlington Nagbe or Aidan Morris to save some legs for the Hell is Real Derby on Sunday. Zawadzki has played mostly well in his rookie season, with the game against the Fire being the exception.
Returning to Porter’s preferred formation should be natural for the team and hopefully the injection of Hernandez will be the catalyst the team has needed to score goals.