After a 4-1 defeat to open the 2023 season at the Philadelphia Union last week, Columbus Crew fans didn’t know what to expect from Wilfried Nancy’s side in the home opener this week. As it turned out, the Crew had a gift instead of coal in the stocking, as Crewsmas brought an emphatic 2-0 win against D.C. United thanks to the amazing performance by Lucas Zelarayan.
Here’s how the Black & Gold players performed in the first game at Lower.com Field of the new year:
Eloy Room (8.0) – The Crew’s defense certainly looked improved with the return of the regular starting goalkeeper. While Room wasn’t called on to deliver anything too difficult, only recording three saves, his presence and organizational skills led to the clean sheet.
Mohamed Farsi (7.0) – After showing potential in the season opener, Farsi put on a solid performance at wing back this game. For a player who was promoted from Crew 2 last year, Farsi is growing in confidence with each game. While he has some struggles with consistency and maintaining possession (he led the team with five giveaways), this will only improve with more playing time at the MLS level.
Steven Moreira (6.0) – Saturday ended up being a quiet night for Moreira. He seems to be figuring out his role s a right center back in Nancy’s system and it may take some time to see him reignite the flashes of brilliance that made Crew fans excited last season when he played his more natural fullback spot.
Milos Degenek (7.5) – Degenek was again being asked to be the anchor for the new three-man backline under Nancy and he was up to the task on Saturday. Degenek led the team in clearances, had a blocked shot and was a menace stifling the offensive threat of United throughout the night.
Philip Quinton (6.5) – Quinton had a solid night for Columbus. Even though D.C. was deliberate in testing the young center back by playing up his side extensively throughout the night, Quinton didn’t back down and made some key blocks to help keep the shutout. While he made some errors under this pressure, Quinton is also someone whose game will improve with additional time at the senior level.
Yaw Yeboah (5.0) – The only real disappointing performance from the home opener was Yeboah who was subpar to say the least playing in a new role at left wing back. He never really used his speed to be dangerous in attack and was more of a liability than a help on the defensive side of the ball. Still looking for a player in this role, the Crew will need to sort out this position sooner rather than later.
Darlington Nagbe (7.0) – Saturday brought solid but not overwhelming performance from the central midfielder. However, a key part of that may be because he was fouled a team-high four times. If MLS continues to allow teams to simply foul Nagbe without consequence, then it may be a long season for the 32 year old. Nagbe also seems to be taking some time to adjust to the new system after playing so long under Caleb Porter.
Aidan Morris (7.5) – Morris was all over the field on Saturday night and he led the team with eight tackles, four more than any teammate. And these weren’t just soft tackles, they were footed sliding tackles to prevent dangerous buildups. Nancy’s system is getting the most out of Morris through the first two games.
Lucas Zelarayán (9.0) – Zelarayan once again showed that he has the ability to be the best player in MLS and it wasn't only the two goals he scored. He also showed this with his relentless hustle and drive throughout the game which was crucial in creating opportunities. Zelarayan also put together a solid defensive performance. Watching both the first and second goals illuminated Zelarayan’s movement, skill and sheer determination and showed why he is still the lead superstar in Columbus.
Alexandru Matan (8.0) – Matan was electric in this game, including getting the assist on the second goal. The Romanian attacking midfielder was all over the field pressing, getting the ball in dangerous positions and absolutely deserved to get on the score sheet. Since returning from loan, Matan is a much-improved player and is simply fun to watch in Nancy’s new system.
Cucho Hernandez (7.0) – While Hernandez had a good game, he will be a little disappointed that he hasn’t scored yet this season, if only because the expectation is for him to score in every game he plays. While finishing with six shots, one on target and an assist on Zelarayan’s first goal is a positive performance for most players, it will go down as merely average for a striker that Black & Gold fans expect so much from.
Luis Diaz (6.0) – Brought on in in the 74th minute, Diaz didn’t get a chance to significantly impact the game. The one time he tried to use his speed to get around a defender he was cut off and fouled and couldn’t ignite an attacking opportunity. But he was solid in defense and helped see out a Columbus victory.
Kevin Molino (N/A) – Only on the field for the final nine minutes plus stoppage time, Molino helped see out the game with fresh legs but wasn’t asked to contribute the way he can off the bench.
Sean Zawadzki (N/A) – Coming in for the final seconds, Zawadzki made his second brief cameo of the young season.
Wilfred Nancy (8.0) – The first home game as Crew head coach for Nancy is in the books and it ended with three points. There will be some growing pains as the Black & Gold learn Nancy’s system, but for one Crewsmas night, Columbus was fun to watch and got the result fans had put on their wish list. Nancy still needs to figure out the wing back positions, but this performance will certainly buy him some goodwill with the supporters.