Making sense of Will Sands’ injury, Crew’s trade for Malte Amundsen

The Columbus Crew confirmed on Tuesday morning in an announcement that 22-year-old left back Will Sands will undergo ACL surgery on his left knee. This confirms the fear of Crew supporters who watched Sands go down injured early in Columbus’s 1-0 loss to Charlotte FC on Saturday. After a seemingly innocuous challenge, Sands stayed down on the ground clutching his left knee before being stretchered off by the medical staff.

Sands, who is in his second year with the club, had been a mainstay in the starting lineup when healthy under first-year head coach Wilfried Nancy in 2023. In fact, Sands was featured in the starting lineup for every match he was available for this season. While Sands begins the recovery process, life must go on for the Black & Gold. 

Along with the announcement of Sands’ injury, the Black & Gold also confirmed the reports that the team completed a trade with New York City FC for left back Malte Amundsen shortly before the close of the MLS’s primary transfer deadline on Monday evening. Amundsen is a 25-year-old left-sided defender from Denmark who, the team hopes, can help replace Sands in at the left wing back position.

Amundsen featured prominently for NYCFC in the club’s 2021 MLS Cup championship run and has amassed 59 MLS appearances with 37 starts. However, Amundsen has experienced an incredible decline in playing time since Sept. 2022. In fact, Amundsen hasn’t played in a competitive match since Sept. 10.

While this may be concerning for Crew fans, a big reason for this has been City head coach Nick Cushing’s shift from a system with wing backs — which his how New York played under Ronny Deila when the team won MLS Cup — to a system with more true fullbacks. Amundsen is likely more effective and comfortable playing as a wing back, which he will for Columbus, and, given the promptness of this move, it is likely the Crew was aware that Amundsen could be a potential player that they could acquire due to his lack of playing time and apparent lack of fit for NYCFC.

Despite a recent lack of playing time, there is little question as to Amundsen’s talent. The former Danish Under-19 & Under-21 international was a constant attacking threat from his left wing back position when playing for the Pidgeons. In fact, despite his lack of playing time down the stretch, Amundsen led NYCFC defenders in expected assists, key passes, crosses into the penalty area, goal creating actions per 90 minutes and progressive carries. In addition to his prowess going forward, Amundsen also led City defenders in tackles won and interceptions. NYCFC bought Amundsen’s services for around £1.3 million in 2021 because the club saw this value him. 

So what does that mean for the Crew, Amundsen and the rest of the squad moving forward?

Iit’s fair to assume that Amundsen will be taking the majority of minutes at left wing back for the Black & Gold once he arrives and adjusts to his new team. Given his playing pedigree, positional fit and attacking prowess, Amundsen projects well into Columbus head coach Wilfried Nancy’s system.

It’s also worth noting that the Crew and Nancy have other viable options at the position, including Jimmy Medranda, who was signed in the offseason, and Yaw Yeboah, who subbed in for Sands on Saturday. Both Medranda and Yeboah represent more traditional attacking threats in this position and would likely have a focus on getting in behind the opponents. This is a difference from Amundsen who usually is typically used in possession in the build-up phase before joining the attack as the ball progresses.

In addition to Yeboah and Medranda, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to see Mohamed Farsi slide over to the left if needed as well. However, this would likely only happen if another center back establishes himself as a viable option to replace Steven Moreira, allowing him to move to the right wing back spot and Farsi to the left.

All that being said, fans should expect Amundsen to be the guy at left wing back once fully fit and ready. How quickly he can get to Columbus and get comfortable with his new teammates and staff will determine how quickly he gets on the field. Regardless of when he makes his debut, Crew fans can expect to see a lot of Amundsen in 2023.

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