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2023 Crew season preview: Forwards

There are some exciting attacking options for the Black & Gold heading into this season.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The start of the 2023 Major League Soccer season is just days away. As we head into the new year, Massive Report takes a look at the current Columbus Crew position groups and breaks down what we expect from those positions in the coming season. Here are the forward.

It’s a new season for the Columbus Crew. There is plenty of optimism for the Black & Gold as Wilfred Nancy takes the helm as the new head coach. One of Nancy’s major tasks this season will be to get more goals from a team that scored just 46 a year ago.

Most of that responsibility will fall on the forwards. We continue our season positional preview by looking at the strikers and what to expect from them in 2023.

Cucho Hernandez

Nancy should be pleased to work with Hernandez. A club record signing of over $10 million, Hernandez finished second in scoring in scoring in 2023 behind Lucas Zelarayan after playing only half the season. The Designated Player is hungry to prove himself further in his first full season in MLS.

Hernandez was a do-it-all striker for the Black & Gold in 2022, scoring from outside the box, drifting to the back post, creating his own space, as well scoring off the break. A quick partnership with 2020 MLS Cup MVP Lucas Zelarayan brought life to a sputtering attack for Columbus last year. The Zelarayan-Hernandez pairing has drawn comparisons to the Miguel Almiron-Josef Martinez partnership that tore up the league for Atlanta United, but they have a long way to go before that comparison is fair.

Hernandez got off to a great start in the MLS, scoring eight goals in his first eight games but slowed down as Crew’s playoff chances dwindled with one finish in his last eight matches. Improvement in consistency will be key for Hernandez in 2023.

Unlike 2022, the DP forward comes into this season fit and with a full preseason in the book, which he believes will make him even more dangerous in 2023.

Christian Ramirez

Ramirez left the MLS for Europe in 2021, joining Scottish side Aberdeen for a year and a half. Ramirez scored 15 goals in 45 matches for Aberdeen across all competitions, including the new UEFA Conference League. The 2022-2023 season saw a significant drop in playing time for Ramirez, seeing action in just 10 matches and scoring three goals across all competitions.

Before leaving for Scotland, Ramirez played for the Houston Dynamo, LAFC and Minnesota United FC, as well as for Minnesota in the North American Soccer League and Charlotte Eagles in USL Pro.

Ramirez was brought to Columbus to serve in a backup role to Hernandez, although it’s possible the two could play together at times and give something different to the Crew attack. If Ramirez does not find his way into the starting 11, it is likely he will see plenty of minutes off the bench with the addition of the Leagues Cup in 2023 adding more matches for the Black & Gold and likely a need to rotate more.

Jacen Russell-Rowe

Russell-Rowe won almost every award he could have in the MLS NEXT Pro reserve league last year, bringing home the MVP trophy, the Golden Boot, the MLS NEXT Pro Cup with Crew 2 and being named to the league’s Best XI. He now hopes to find more minutes with the first team in 2023

The 20 year old may have difficulty finding those minutes if Hernandez stays healthy. Russell-Rowe made six appearances for 227 minutes with the first team in 2022 while failing to find the back of the net. The Canadian did register two assists in his first start with Columbus against Toronto FC, where Russell-Rowe spent his academy days, and was signed to the first team midseason due to a lack of forward options prior to Hernandez’s arrival.

Nancy had a history of playing younger players with CF Montreal and Russell-Rowe could be the next to benefit from this approach, although he may need to make more of an impact off the bench. If Russell-Rowe is lacking in minutes at the senior level, he could play again with Crew 2 this year.

Max Arfsten

The Crew drafted a forward in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft, no. 14 overall, in Arfsten from San Jose Earthquakes II. In 24 matches in MLS NEXT Pro last year, Arfsten scored nine goals. Arfsten should provide additional depth in case of injuries. The Fresno native played collegiately at UC Davis, scoring eight goals and notching seven assists in his final season.

Final Thoughts:

No forward has scored double-digit goals for the Black & Gold since Gyasi Zardes managed 12 in the 2020 season. With Hernandez as the unquestioned starter, his goal scoring prowess and the connection with Zelarayanm fans should expect that to change this year while the other forwards chip in when called upon.

Preview position previews


Center backs


Central midfielders

Attacking midfielders