1. Columbus has had a tough season thus far. What’s to blame?
Goal-scoring consistency’s plagued the Crew this season. At the beginning of the season, when the Black & Gold won two of their first four, and began unbeaten in all four, they were scoring big. A four-goal, three-goal and two-goal match to start the 2022 campaign.
Since March 20 though, which is no coincidence considering it was when midfielder Lucas Zelarayán suffered a knee injury against New York Red Bulls, the scoring all but stopped. Zelarayán played through an injury and never looked like the same player who won MLS Player of the Month for March.
After that, Columbus became a much easier side to face. Also, early season set piece defending and mistakes, see the Philadelphia Eloy Room dropped ball into his own net as an example, made the Crew fight not only opponents but themselves.
Forwards Miguel Berry and Gyasi Zardes (now a member of the Colorado Rapids) lacked bite and the Crew went four matches without a goal.
Last thing to add is sticking with specific tactics. Through Zelarayán’s injury play, the Crew stayed in their tried and true 4-2-3-1. While it helped them create chances and hold possession, the possession never turned into goals.
2. While Toronto FC isn’t the strongest team in the East, the Crew has to be pleased with their victory at BMO. What went right for the Crew?
What went right for Columbus is twofold. First, head coach Caleb Porter’s tactical game plan is working. The Crew have given up on trying to hold the ball more than the other side and have sat back while players got healthy. Columbus relied on their defenders and Room to absorb pressure and make the best of their few chances, which goes right into the second piece.
Columbus actually finished their chances. They did that through a surprising pair of players in Jacen Russell-Rowe and Sean Zawadzki. Russell-Rowe joined Columbus in the offseason, as a member of Crew 2, of the MLS NEXT Pro development league. Due to injuries, and Russell-Rowe scoring goals at a high clip in NEXT Pro, he received his two call-up substitutions, which is the maximum the league allows.
Wednesday morning they signed Russell-Rowe and that night he had two assists in a composed MLS starting debut. The first assist landed at the feet of rookie midfielder Zawadzki who put his laces through the ball and scored a rocket of a goal to put Columbus up.
From there it was more and more defense. The Crew had one mistake in defending a cross that turned into a headed Toronto goal, but otherwise played soundly to earn three points, and their fourth unbeaten match in a row.
3. Who’s someone that Philly should watch on Sunday as dangerous or defensively secure?
This week I’m watching Zelarayán. If he’s truly healthy then he’ll change the match for Columbus and really push the Philadelphia Union defense. Also, winger Derrick Etienne Jr. is off the injury list for the first time in a few matches and fullback Pedro Santos’ minutes are creeping back up to a full 90. Etienne’s having a career season in goal production and Santos is arguably the best left back in the league after converting from the wing in the offseason.
Defensively, expect Jonathan Mensah and Miloš Degenek in the backline. Columbus might go crazy and play a 3-5-2 again, like they did in Toronto, which means veteran Josh Williams will anchor the middle of a back three.
4. Will the Crew have any notable absences? What are your lineup and score predictions?
Absence-wise, Columbus had nine players on the injury list a week ago, but now that’s down to 4, with only two of the four being players that started the season opener in Feb. I’m going to go on a limb and say Porter keeps the 3-5-2 for the Union. Having Zelarayán and Russell-Rowe up top, with Zelarayán stretching the limits of a False Nine, and allowing Russell-Rowe to have more one-on-one moments.
Looking at both sides, I think either would be happy with a draw, but I’m saying Columbus gets the better of the Union at home, and the Crew win 2-1. Take that with a grain of salt because we make weekly predictions and I’m one of, if not the, worst prognosticator on the staff.
The confidence behind the decision is that Sunday will also unveil Cucho Hernández to the home crowd. While he’s not eligible to play, it should hopefully provide a buzz of excitement for not only the supporters but the team too.