By Tyler Trent
The Columbus Crew huddle before their match (Photo courtesy of the Columbus Crew)
What We Have Seen So Far
The Columbus Crew are coming to Charlotte on a four-game unbeaten streak including a 6-1 thrashing of Atlanta United and a 4-0 win against Real Salt Lake.
New manager, Wilfried Nancy, has the Crew looking dangerous and with two recent wins against teams who handed Charlotte their biggest defeats this season, the black and blue will have to be on top of their game.
However, in their most recent match, the Crew required a 98th minutes equalizer to rescue a point against 10-man New England.
Crew midfielder Aidan Morris has had a breakout season for the squad after a strong year in 2022 as well. Morris has been able to control the midfield and breakup opposing play consistently and has also managed to score 3 goals this season.
MLS veteran, Christian Ramirez joined the Crew in the offseason after spending time at Aberdeen FC in Scotland. Ramirez has hit the ground running scoring 3 goals in his 4 appearances this season.
The Crew allowed several notable players to leave including Pedro Santos, Derrick Etienne Jr, Artur, Jonathan Mensah, and Perry Kitchen.
The biggest off-season boost for the Crew is arguably their new manager. Wilfried Nancy led Montreal to a great season last year and ultimately left to take over Caleb Porter’s team that finished 8th last season in MLS. Nancy’s style of play has really benefitted the Crew early in 2023 and really brought the best out in most of their players.
Players to Watch
Aidan Morris – The young midfielder has been at the center of the success of the Crew this season. If he is able to dictate the game and win the midfield battle, Charlotte will be in for a very rough match.
Alexandru Matan – While Matan isn't a player new to the Columbus Crew, he is playing like a brilliant new signing after returning from a loan spell in his home country of Romania. Matan greatly benefits from the strong Crew midfield and the attention that Zelarayán requires from opposing teams.
Lucas Zelarayán – Zelarayán will always be the name to watch out for with the Columbus Crew. The Armenian already has 4 goals and 2 assists to his name this season and is capable of providing a magic moment without notice (see his midfield goal last year against Charlotte.)
The Crew's Starting XI
The Crew lineup has required some rotation with minor injuries and tactical changes. However, their most recent lineup is arguably their strongest on paper minus Cucho Hernández who has been out with an injury for several weeks. It remains to be seen if Cucho will be included in the squad that will travel to Charlotte this weekend.
The Crew's lineup versus New England (Image from MLSsoccer.com)
Outlook for 2023
The Crew are a dangerous team. With one of the strongest central midfield pairings in the league in Aidan Morris and Darlington Nagbe, Columbus will try to dictate the flow of the game. With explosive players up front, Charlotte will have to be organized for the full length of the match if they want to come out of this matchup with points.
The Crew currently sit in 4th place of the Eastern Conference, but as the team continues to adapt to Nancy's style of play, we could see them reaching even taller heights, especially if they get designated player Cucho Hernández healthy and scoring.