Predicted XI: Pittsburgh Riverhounds
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The Columbus Crew travels to Highmark Stadium to take on the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup. This game is likely to see Columbus field a rotated lineup following a busy stretch for the Black & Gold, including Saturday’s Hell Is Real Derby loss to FC Cincinnati.
The star players for Columbus will likely not travel, allowing them to focus on the Nashville SC matchup this weekend. This likely almost certainly includes forward Cucho Hernandez, midfielder Darlington Nagbe, winger Luis Diaz and playmaker Lucas Zelarayan. Midfielder Kevin Molino and center back Josh Williams have returned to practice, but head coach Wilfried Nancy indicated they are still not game ready. Eloy Room’s extended absence likely will keep the goalkeeper sidelined. Center back Milos Degenek and left back Will Sands are all out with injuries.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at the lineup we believe the Crew will roll out in Pittsburgh:
Goalkeeper Evan Bush will continue to lead the Black & Gold in the Open Cup. The Ohio native’s experience, level head and shot-stopping ability are exactly what the Crew needs with inexperience at the center back position in front of Bush.
Nancy has mentioned he can use different formations, but his dogmatic approach to a three-center-back system will show in this match. Philip Quinton will be in the center of the three as he looks for a bounce-back game after the Cincinnati match. Keegan Hughes makes a start to Quinton’s right while Jake Morris makes a surprise start as a left center back. Morris will look to provide better defensive coverage than his last outing in the Open Cup when he gave Loudoun United FC a penalty kick shortly after being brought into the match. The Crew can ill afford another injury along the backline and will look to keep Steven Moriera and Gustavo Vallecilla on the bench if possible.
Mohamed Farsi will not begin the game on the bench but will start at right wing back with Yaw Yeboah on the left. Yeboah is coming off a slight knock that kept him sidelined for the Hell Is Real Derby but the Ghanaian was the spark that led to the Black & Gold’s five-goal performance in the last round of the Open Cup.
Aidan Morris and Sean Zawadzki will man the central midfield. Against Loudoun, Thomas Roberts got his first senior team start but will not make the starting XI for this match. Together Morris and Zawadzki should exert control over the midfield, giving the wing backs and forwards freedom to attack.
Isaiah Parente will fill the attacking midfield role with Christian Ramirez and Jacen Russell-Rowe up front. Parente had a stellar performance last Open Cup match with two goals and one assist. Forward Max Arfsten will likely make an appearance as an attacking substitution.
A couple of the Crew 2 players will make the trip to Pittsburgh to fill out the bench. Defender Abdi Mohamed will get a call-up, as will midfielder Marco Micalleto and attacker Noah Fuson. Micaletto, Mohamed and Fuson all saw limited action against FC Cincinnati 2 on Sunday evening.