On Sunday night, the Columbus Crew hosts Atlanta United at Lower.com Field as the Black & Gold look to sweep the season series against the Five Stripes. Sunday’s match, which will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1, presents an excellent opportunity for the Crew to create space between themselves and the rest of the clubs vying for an Eastern Conference MLS Cup playoff spot.
Atlanta has had an incredibly disappointing season, as the team currently sits 13 in the East. However, despite sitting so low in the table, United still has plenty to play for as the team’s postseason hopes are very much alive. The Five Stripes sit only four points off of the seventh and final playoff spot, and with an offensive arsenal that contains the likes of Thiago Almada, Josef Martinez and Luiz Araujo, among others, anything is possible.
The Black & Gold have a clean bill of health coming into this match and head coach Caleb Porter will have the full first team roster at his disposal as no players were listed on Saturday’s injury report.
With all of the above being said, here is who Massive Report believes will start for Columbus Sunday night against Atlanta:
Artur has started both matches since his return from injury earlier this month. However, it feels hard to believe that the talented Brazilian midfielder is cemented in his spot alongside Darlington Nagbe when you consider how well Aidan Morris played in Artur’s time away. While it is possible that Porter abides by the old adage, “you can’t lose your starting spot due to injury,” it feels negligent to have someone as talented as Morris playing 20 to 30 minutes per game. Porter knows the player that he has in Morris, and while Artur is exceptional at times, expect the coach to split starts between the two depending on who he feels fits best against that day’s opponent.
For Sunday night, the answer is Morris. As mentioned above, United features a prolific attack that is more than capable of brilliance, and the young American midfielder is the man best suited to cover ground and win the ball back from the Five Stripes’ attackers. Morris was hitting his stride when Artur returned and mixing in a start here and there will do wonders to allow the 20 year old to continue to grow.
The other starting position in question is the one alongside Jonathan Mensah at center back. Although Josh Williams was available for selection last Saturday at the Colorado Rapids, he did not make the trip to Denver and Porter elected to start Milos Degenek. While Degenek has been solid over the last two and a half games in Williams’ stead, Porter has made it clear through his team selection throughout the season that if Williams is healthy and available, he is a starter.
While Williams did not start in Colorado when supposedly healthy, Porter likely thought that starting the Crew veteran at altitude following a prolonged illness was not what was best for the team or the player.
Beyond center back and midfield, expect every other position to remain consistent with what Black & Gold fans have seen recently for the team.