Despite a disappointing late equalizer from D.C. United on Wednesday night, it seems as though the Columbus Crew is rounding into form just in time for what head coach Caleb Porter called the “biggest game of the season” in his media availability on Friday, when FC Cincinnati comes to Lower.com Field for the first Hell is Real Derby of 2022.
The Crew is unbeaten in its last seven matches, a stretch that has included five matches on the road. This welcomed change of pace in away form is a major reason why the Black & Gold have managed to hang around the MLS Cup playoff line despite key injuries and the long-awaited arrival of striker Cucho Hernandez. Now, it is time for Columbus to take advantage of a stretch of matches at home, with seven of the next 10 games to be hosted in the state capital.
Friday’s injury report should bring a smile to supporters’ faces, as only two individuals are featured on the report, both listed as questionable, in midfielder Artur (right lower leg) and center back Milos Degenek (right thigh). Porter, who now has all of his attacking talent available to him and in good fitness, will finally be able to make the return to his bread and butter 4-2-3-1, which should allow the Crew playmakers to play in their most comfortable roles.
With the formation choice in mind, here is who Massive Report believes will start for the Black & Gold in the 10th edition of the Hell is Real Derby:
As mentioned above, expect Columbus to start Sunday’s match in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Porter brought on Hernandez and Lucas Zelarayan at halftime at D.C., and in making those substitutions, also changed formations to a true 4-2-3-1. It was evident that when Zelarayan is operating in a true No. 10 and Hernandez is working as a lone striker, the pair has the potential to be incredibly special.
Hernandez has been immaculate so far in limited minutes for the Black & Gold, already scoring three goals in less than 80 minutes of game action. Although Porter has said that he is going to slowly work the young Colombian striker into the fold, Sunday’s match presents the perfect opportunity for the Crew’s third Designated Player to get his first start. Hernandez played about 30 minutes at the Chicago Fire and a full second half in D.C., which means that the next natural progression is 60 minutes in the Hell is Real Derby.
With the formation selection, the only other position that seems unspoken for is the right wing. Both Luis Diaz and Yaw Yeboah featured in Wednesday’s match against United, with Diaz getting the start and Yeboah coming on in relief around the 75th minute. Neither winger played exceptionally well to show that he should be the locked-in starter for Sunday’s match. However, due to his exceptional play in Chicago the match prior, expect Diaz to get the start once again. It seems as though the Costa Rican may be turning a corner, as evidenced by his two assists against the Fire.