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Question the Enemy: Massive Report’s Patrick Murphy talks Columbus Crew

Patrick Murphy catches us up on the Columbus Crew ahead of their first meeting this season with the Union

MLS: Columbus Crew at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s game day and thanks to the successful #SaveTheCrew movement, there’s still a Columbus Crew team to root against today in Chester. I caught up with Patrick Murphy at Massive Report to find out more about this year’s Crew team under new head coach Caleb Porter and how they will look with a similar player shortage the Union are experiencing.

Both teams will be missing a number of key players. How are you feeling about the Crew’s depth and how do you think the changes to the lineup will impact the team?

The Crew’s depth is actually pretty good, especially if you ask Caleb Porter. While the Black & Gold will certainly miss the likes of Wil Trapp, Gyasi Zardes, Justin Meram, Waylon Francis and Zack Steffen, there are capable backups at every position.

Behind Zardes is MLS veteran Patrick Mullins and rookie JJ Williams (see below), both of whom have impressed at points. Trapp’s backup has been Ricardo Clark for the last season-plus and, while he’s not a like-for-like replacement, that is about as good as you’re going to get experience wise. Meram was actually dropped from the starting lineup last week for new Brazilian winger Robinho, so that won’t be much of a change. Francis will be replaced by the versatile Hector Jimenez, who has played the position for the Crew many times and already has an assist in that role coming off the bench this year. It will likely be Joe Bendik in goal for the Black & Gold, another experienced MLS player.

Will things have to be altered stylistically for Columbus with so many new faces? Probably but it should be nothing this group of veteran backups can’t handle.

It’s still early in the season, but what can you tell us about Caleb Porter and how he compares with Berhalter? Has he made many changes to the lineup or the style of play?

The differences between the two are few. Both like to play a possession style that is focused on attacking. As you’ve seen with the U.S. National Team, Berhalter was pretty good at getting players to play his way, so Porter’s style has fit in well.

The differences that are there are tactical and more subtle. One of the major differences is that Porter wants more possession and creation in the middle of the field and his teams will counter-press when they lose the ball. This has pushed Wil Trapp up the field higher into a double-pivot role with Artur instead of dropping deep to connect with the backline. Columbus will still look to play a similar game as Union fans have seen in previous years.

Connor Maloney is guy from our area we haven’t heard much from in a while. Any chance he plays on Saturday or fellow Reading United alum JJ Williams?

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Maloney make the trip as the backup at outside back. Not sure if he gets in the game but it’s certainly more likely with Jimenez starting for Francis. As for Williams, I think there’s a good chance. Williams has been on the bench for all three games to start the year and Mullins has been there for just two. It wouldn’t surprise me if Porter goes with the more veteran Mullins from the start, but Williams could make his debut in this game.

Besides the international call-ups and Zack Steffen’s injury, are there any other players out for tomorrow? What’s your projected starting XI and score prediction?

The only other for sure player out is Milton Valenzuela, who tore his ACL in the preseason. Artur took a knock last week and is listed as questionable. My projected starting lineup is as follows:

Joe Bendik
Harrison Afful-Jonathan Mensah-Gaston Sauro-Hector Jimenez
Pedro Santos-Artur-Ricardo Clark-Robinho
Federico Higuain
Patrick Mullins