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2023 Crew season preview: Fullbacks

The Black & Gold fullbacks are likely to play a little differently this year.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Charlotte FC Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the 2023 Major League Soccer season is just over a week. As we head to the new year, Massive Report takes a look at the Columbus Crew’s position groups as they currently stand and break down what we expect from those positions in the coming season. Here are the fullbacks.

The Columbus Crew has a new manager in Wilfried Nancy taking charge in 2023. With this comes some unpredictability as to how the Black & Gold will line up this coming season. With CF Montreal over the last two years, Nancy often deployed a variation of 3-5-2, which is what we expect him to use more often than not in Columbus.

In a typical 3-5-2 formation, the fullbacks have to be extremely versatile, working to get into the attack as well as defending (which can often look like a back five). Defensively, the fullbacks can be used to add to the backline or can be asked to tuck into midfield to help add numbers in transition at times depending on how the coach wants to play.

Offensively, the fullbacks often stay high and wide, creating as much space in the middle of the park for the midfielders to carry the ball forward, play the striker, or switch the point of attack. As the ball gets played into the feet of the fullback/wing back, they must be able to take on the final defender one-on-one and get service into the penalty box.

With the likelihood of this formation in mind, let’s look into the options Columbus has at the fullback position for the 2023 season.

Jimmy Mendranda

Mendranda is entering his first season with the Crew and his 11th overall. The former Seattle Sounder only notched 646 minutes last season while dealing with injuries and contributed three assists.

Mendranda was a consistent player for Seattle and will bring valuable experience to the Black & Gold backline. If he can stay healthy, which has been an issue for the player in recent years, expect Medranda to serve in the left fullback/wing back role, pushing up the field and providing width for the Columbus attack.

Mohamed Farsi

In his first professional season, Farsi was largely a part of Crew 2, helping the club’s reserve team win the MLS NEXT Pro cup. He did sign a first-team contract in the midst of 2022 when the Crew needed added help at fullback but only played 79 minutes throughout his nine appearances.

In that short time, Farsi showed signs of the player he could become, unafraid to attack but demonstrating an understanding for his defensive responsibilities. Look for Farsi to continue to grow as a player in 2023 under Nancy, a manager who has trusted young players in the past. Earning more first-team minutes and possibly still playing some with Crew 2 will help his continued development to make an impact going forward.

Will Sands

Also entering his second professional season, Sands was a first-team player but saw most of his action, especially early in the year, with Crew 2. He was called upon for the Black & Gold first team due to injuries and played 635 minutes in 12 MLS appearances in his rookie season and registered one assist

A good beginning to his career, Sands will need to continue to grow in 2023. A new coach and back-room staff will be good for his development at left back, likely as the primary backup to Medranda.

Steven Moreira

Entering his third MLS season, Moreira made 32 starts in 2022 with one goal and eight assists. The right back led all Columbus defenders in minutes with 2,786 throughout the season.

In the previous 4-2-3-1 played under Caleb Porter, Moreira was active offensively but still got back defensively, making sure to be in a supporting position to cross the ball and help cover on the other side of the field. This high work rate should transition well to the expected 3-5-2 wingback roll.

In 2023, Moreira should be an instrumental player along the Crew’s backline. His consistency and high work rate will transition well into the new formation and he also has the ability to play on the outside of the three center backs.

Luis Diaz

Diaz was a player most readers wouldn’t expect to be listed with the fullbacks but as a winger in a 4-2-3-1, he can be converted into a wing back. Diaz started 17 games in 2022, 26 starts, while tallying three goals and six assists.

Wing back would be a different role from the rest of his career with the Crew, however, it is a reasonable one and one Diaz has played in his youth. The Costa Rican’s speed is something that can be utilized on the counter attack and while taking on defenders one-on-one.

If Diaz is going to play much during the final year of his contract with the Black & Gold, it seems he will have to adjust to this different role. Fortunately, his characteristics of speed and work rate lend themselves to the wing back position that Columbus could use in the upcoming season.

Final Thoughts

The Crew has many options at fullback, with veterans and young players who will lend themselves to playing several different styles of the 3-5-2. Getting the best of out each player will be the challenge of the new coaching staff.

Preview position previews


Center backs