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Predicted XI: Philadelphia Union

How the Crew should line up to get three points at home vs. the Union.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t look now, but the Columbus Crew is getting hot. In the team’s last four matches, the Black & Gold have walked away with eight points, which includes two wins and one draw on the road. This is a run of away form for Columbus that has been unheard of in the Caleb Porter era. Now, the Crew needs to make Lower.com Field the fortress the front office and supporters always imagined it would be when they opened the stadium a year ago.

Sunday night is as good of a time as ever to start to build that fortress. Usually, when the Philadelphia Union comes to town, there wouldn’t be the highest of expectations. However, the Union is currently exceptionally thin, as the team visitors will be missing defensive midfield standout Jose Martinez, who is out for one match after picking up two yellow cards in Philly’s midweek loss at the Chicago Fire, and four contributors who are currently with the United States Under-20 National Team that qualified for both the 2023 U-20 World Cup and 2024 Olympics this past week.

The stars are aligning as the Black & Gold injury report continues to clear up, with only four members of the Columbus team remaining on the report. The four individuals still on the report are all listed as questionable in forward Erik Hurtado (right foot), fullback Marlon Hairston (right thigh), winger Yaw Yeboah (left ankle) and midfielder Artur (right lower leg), who has been upgraded from “out” to “questionable” since Tuesday.

With all of that said, here is who Massive Report believes will start for Columbus Sunday night against Philadelphia:

The individual most notably absent from Friday’s injury report is Derrick Etienne Jr., who Porter hinted he was saving for Sunday’s match when speaking with reporters on Tuesday. With the reintroduction of Etienne Jr. into the fold, expect Porter to return to his trusty 4-2-3-1 formation, as he gains back a winger that he trusts.

While the 3-5-2 was effective for the Crew at Toronto FC midweek, that formation selection was likely more a product of personnel, as opposed to a formation change moving forward. With the return back to the 4-2-3-1, it should allow playmaker Lucas Zelarayan to do more to affect the game. Zelarayan, who returned from injury, was subbed out in the 59th minute against Toronto, failing to register a shot and to truly affect the game like he and Black & Gold supporters have become accustomed to.

Starting up top will be Jacen Russell-Rowe. This season’s feel-good story up to this point, Russell-Rowe took his opportunity in Toronto and ran with it. The young Canadian proved that he belonged at the top of the American soccer pyramid, registering two assists against his boyhood club. With Hurtado still likely out with injury Sunday night, Russell-Rowe feels like the natural choice up top, as Miguel Berry has done nothing to show that he deserves the nod.