The Columbus Crew is coming off a 2-0 victory against D.C. United last weekend that saw offensive fireworks and the team’s first shutout of the 2023 Major League Soccer season. The next opponent for the Black & Gold is Toronto FC, who lost against D.C. in the season opener before a 1-1 draw at Atlanta United last week. Does Columbus head coach Wilfred Nancy opt to go with the same team that won against United, or does he continue to tinker? That is the question.
Nancy was unhappy with how his team seemed to rush upfield instead of developing possession, ultimately giving D.C. the majority of the ball. It is probable that Nancy continues to change up the lineup to see what other players bring to the team, and who best fits his play style.
Yaw Yeboah started last week as a left wing back and, while there were some positive moments, he did struggle. Yeboah completed only 70 percent of his passes, second to last for the team, and seemed unsure defensively. Most of this can be chalked up to playing out of position and on the opposite flank as he normally does. This seems a potential spot for Nancy to continue to test other players with Will Sands still out with an injury.
Second-year players Jacen Russell-Rowe and Sean Zawadzki both had their most productive senior team appearance against Toronto last season and would be eager to play against them again. Whether Nancy agrees to let that happen is yet to be determined.
In addition to Sands, forward Christian Ramirez remains sidelined with a foot injury. Joining the injury report this week is center back Josh Williams with an ankle injury.
Let’s take a look at how we expect the lineup to
This week’s predicted lineup sees two changes. Yeboah is swapped for left back Jimmy Medranda and central midfielder Aidan Morris is out for Zawadaki.
Nancy will continue to build consistency and better communication along the backline of Philip Quinton, Milos Degenek and Steven Moreira with Eloy Room as the goalkeeper. With improvement between Week 1 and 2, Nancy will hope the three center backs have improved and are ready to defend against two of the more talented attackers in the league in Toronto’s Federico Bernardeschi and, if healthy, Lorenzo Insigne. TFC has dealt with injuries to Insigne in Week 1 and forwards Adama Diamande and Ayo Akinola last week.
Nancy might consider giving Medranda his debut to continue to see what options he has at left wing back. Mohamed Farsi should get his third straight start at right wing back. Nancy could play Farsi as a left wing back and Luis Diaz as a right wing back as well.
Another shake up to the starting lineup would Zawadzki for Morris. Morris had a positive game against D.C. and this change up would be to see what Zawadzki brings to the team and if his ball-winning ability could swing the possession advantage in Crew’s favor against Toronto. As captain, Darlington Nagbe will start whenever healthy.
Playmakers Lucas Zelarayan and Alexandru Matan showed the Black & Gold faithful why Nancy has entrusted the attacking midfield roles to them. Playing two attacking midfielders instead of two forwards should help Columbus with possession. Both players should have more freedom in possession, as TFC’s midfield has not shown a consistent ability to pressure the ball.
While Russell-Rowe certainly wants a chance to start against his former club, Cucho Hernandez stays up top for the Crew. Nancy needs his Designated Player striker to score goals and Hernandez should have opportunities against Toronto. The Reds have three new starters in the defense this season and have given up four goals in two games. If Nancy opted to play Russell-Rowe, it would likely be as a replacement for Matan and play a two-striker system.