We spoke with writer Thomas Costello of Massive Report to learn more about Columbus Crew and what we can expect to see from a talented team with one of the most exciting goal-scorers in MLS in Cucho, but that are coming off a tough home loss on Wednesday to CF Montréal that saw them give up the winning goal in stoppage time.
Hudson River Blue: Let’s talk about the impact of Wednesday’s lightning-delayed loss to Montréal. Do you think the late finish will affect the squad’s match fitness against NYCFC? What about the mental fatigue after such a disheartening game?
Thomas Costello: Talking with head coach Caleb Porter and two of the players today, the word out of training is using it as motivation, mentally. Physically though, it’ll be interesting. New York hasn’t played in a week while Columbus has a tough loss with only two days between it and the NYCFC trip.
Also, there’s the added wrinkle of if Cucho Hernández is able to go a full 90, since he had a slow roll-up to a full match, without substitution. Zelarayán left early on Wednesday, making it feel like it was intended to allow him to play on Saturday. The winger roles will be interesting, with both Derrick Etienne Jr. and Luis Díaz (the recently preferred starters up top) both leaving the match and requesting to leave due to humidity and heat.
Either way, there’s enough depth where Columbus can still field a strong side. With a week off following the match, it’d be a surprise to not see a close-to-top team.
HRB: Lucas Zelarayán is one of the best players in MLS, Cucho has made a splash since joining the Crew, and Darlington Nagbe shows his quality in the midfield. Who else on the team should we be clocking during the game?
TC: The second midfield position, in the center of the park next to Nagbe that’ll be interesting to watch. Columbus has two names to choose from, both MLS champions but not part of the overall marketing strategy of the league.
Artur is a name that closer followers of the league will know. The Brazilian plays a marauding style while Nagbe holds possession and moves the ball down the field. When Artur’s healthy, he’s one of the best at what he does, and he’s getting back to health.
After a back injury took him out most of 2021, he suffered a lower leg fracture after his leg got in the way of a Dom Dwyer shot against Atlanta United this year. Wednesday was his first minutes back and he created three turnovers in less than 20 minutes and almost put Columbus in a spot to score a second goal. If his health and fitness is up, it’ll give the Crew a boost.
If he’s not up to 100%, which Porter wasn’t open about sharing, it’s Aidan Morris, the 2020 MLS Cup breakout midfielder. Playing in really his first full season as a professional, Morris slotted into Artur’s spot when he suffered the fracture. He showed a lot of the competencies as Artur but has more of an edge, and covers a lot of the field. Either way, Porter goes with selection, watch the midfield next to Nagbe for a strength of the team.
HRB: Lower.com Field opened last year, and she’s a beaut: What’s the X-factor of playing in such a nice facility in front of a home crowd?
TC: No one seems to know that factor, even the team, so if you figure it out let us know.
Seriously though, after being notorious for playing poorly on the road, the Crew are even with 15 points this season both away and in Lower.com Field.
Columbus lost a few tough matches there this year, during the height of injury issues for the Black & Gold. The non-injury-related matches usually featured teams sitting further back like Charlotte FC (one week after introducing a new coach) or New England Revolution (who were missing big names and had Jozy Altidore starting as striker).
Saturday is the first real test this season of two teams that play more open soccer, and both competing for a spot in the playoffs. The crowds have grown in Columbus since the opening, and until the midweek match against Montréal had four-straight sellouts, but only have one win at home since the start of May. Not great.