The Columbus Crew travels to Charlotte FC riding a four-game unbeaten streak, including three victories and a draw against the New England Revolution last week. For three matches in a row, head coach Wilfried Nancy selected the same starting lineup. Nancy’s hands were tied in some spots due to injuries, but as some players return from injuries, like goalkeeper Eloy Room and forward Cucho Hernandez, Nancy will have to make some tough decisions.
The Crew has some relief on the injury front this week. Room was back in practice and is listed as questionable on this week’s availability report, but finds stiff competition from young goalkeeper Patrick Schulte. Nancy said that Hernandez is progressing well and participated in training but is also questionable. There was some talk about minute management so expecting a return to the starting lineup may be out of the question for the star forward against Charlotte. Winger Luis Diaz and center Josh Williams remain out, while midfielder Kevin Molino continues to recover from knee surgery.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at how we believe the Black & Gold will line up on Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium.
The most difficult decision Nancy will make this week is who to start at goalkeeper. Schulte had eight saves en route to a Team of the Matchday performance against New England last week. The Revolution was not able to get a goal past Schulte, but he was unfortunately undone by an own goal that ricocheted off of center back Milos Degenek’s plant leg as he tried to clear the ball.
Nancy will continue to start Schulte in goal while still working Room back to the first team as Columbus has a mid-week U.S. Open Cup match.
There will be no changes along the backline either. Center back Philip Quinton has shown that his best position is in the center of the back three and veteran Degenek is the clear favorite in that position. Gustavo Vallecilla and Steven Moreira will flank Degenek against Charlotte. There will be ample opportunity for Quinton on Wednesday against Indy Eleven.
Wing backs Mohamed Farsi and Will Sands have entrenched their starting positions with good performances. It is unlikely either player will be rotated at this point in the season with the way they are playing.
The only other controversy could be in the midfield. Central midfielders Darlington Nagbe and Aidan Morris have played at a very high level for Columbus this year and it would be difficult to play anyone in their place. Young midfielder Sean Zawadzki made his case to get starting minutes with his last-minute headed goal to salvage a point against New England. With Morris seeing midweek action for the United States Men’s National Team against Mexico, rotation at his position would not be a surprise. With all that considered, Nancy will opt for Morris as the starter while giving Zawadzki the start in the Open Cup.
There will be no changes with the front three either. After continuing their fine play, Alexandru Matan and Lucas Zelarayan will start as attacking midfielders behind Christian Ramirez. It would not be a surprise to see Hernandez come off the bench, but the Crew may opt to wait to bring back the Designated Player striker to avoid his return from a knee injury coming on a turf field.