The Columbus Crew didn’t get off to the start to the 2023 season last week after a disappointing loss to a very good Philadelphia Union team on the road. The Crew did show promise, especially in the first half, and was a bit unlucky to give away a penalty right before halftime. Philadelphia made good halftime adjustments and showed Black & Gold fans why many consider the Union favorites to win the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.
This week, head coach Wilfred Nancy has found plenty of positives to build on, especially to develop consistent intensity over the full 90 minutes of a game. Nancy has said he might change lineups from week to week, depending on the opponent. But this will be the first test of how much the first-year Columbus head coach adjusts.
Forward Christian Ramirez remains out with a foot injury, but Nancy believes he should be back soon. Left back Will Sands is questionable with back spasms. Midfielder Luis Diaz participated in practice and isn’t listed on this week’s availability report after suffering an apparent shoulder injury during the Philadelphia match.
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at how we predict the Crew to line up in the Week 2 match against D.C. United.
Goalkeeper Eloy Room returns to the lineup after being away from the team prior to the season to continue his green card process. The veteran goalkeeper will bring decisiveness and experience, especially in distribution out of the back.
The three center backs will likely stay the same as last week. The entire backline struggled in the first week, including with distribution and passing under pressure. Quite honestly, this should have been expected as the defenders get used to different spacing and positioning. One pass was sent out of touch as a defender was being pressured. With true fullbacks, this pass would have a target nearby, although the wingbacks push up the field and are not in a position to receive that pass. Nancy will likely look to build consistency with Steven Moreira, Milos Degenek and Philip Quinton.
The limitation of Sands in practice will see a change in left fullback. Winger Yaw Yeboah had a couple of positive moments in his brief cameo last week and will make his first start this season. Wing back Mohamed Farsi fills the right wingback role once again. Farsi is a natural right wing back but has experience on the left side, which could see Diaz start on the right opposite Farsi. With this lineup, Nancy opts to continue to build communication and understanding between Farsi and Moreira on the right side.
Midfielders Aidan Morris and captain Darlington Nagbe seem to be locked into the central midfield roles. If there is any change, it would be to give Sean Zawadzki a chance to start over Morris. Both young midfielders show plenty of promise and Nancy could rotate them.
Attacking midfielder Alexandru Matan made his first start in some time last week and showed well in the first half. Expect him to get another start to build on his positive performance. Lucas Zelarayan will occupy the other attacking midfield role. Nancy will need to figure out how to keep Zelarayan and Matan involved in the match as, once the Union made adjustments and began to take over the match, both players struggled to make impacts.
Forward Cucho Hernandez remains the lone striker. Hernandez’s cross into Matan led to the Crew’s only goal after defender Jakob Glesnes deflected it into his own net. The Colombian only needs moments to affect the match and create a goal, although the more involved Hernandez is, the more likely the Black & Gold will score. Philadelphia was able to cut off dangerous passes to Hernandez, forcing him to receive the ball along the wings.
There still might be growing pains as the team works on new ideas and formations, so the lineup should only get better as the season goes on. Facing the Union was a tough task and fans should expect more attacking threat and creativity against a D.C. team that finished bottom of the table last season and has undergone a lot of change. under head coach Wayne Rooney.