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The Columbus Preview

This preview is going to be a bit shorter than normal. Between dog training and preparing for friends coming into town, this week has been a bit busier than usual. I think this game against Columbus is winnable, however, I don't know that Columbus is the 10th best team in the East. My gut tells me they're a bit better than their record shows. Let's see what the numbers say.




Shots per game

Shots per game on target

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

Points (standing)

WhoScored team rating (SofaScore team rating)

Charlotte FC




15 (17.3)

18 (19.8)

19 (7th in East)

6.55 (6.82)

Columbus Crew




17 (19.1)

16 (16.6)

10th (10th in East)

6.66 (6.86)

Two things jump out to me initially about Columbus. First, unlike many of our recent opponents, they are not ceding possession. Teams like RBNY, Vancouver, and Miami are all in the low to mid-40s in possession. Columbus is not dominating possession, however, they're not simply trying to hit on the counter. Second, when it comes to xG, they're just above Charlotte in the East. Columbus is 8th in the East in xG, while Charlotte is 9th.

In terms of shooting volume, Columbus is pretty high in the league at 7th. It's the inverse though for them with quality shots, as they are 6th to last in shots on target per game. RBNY was a team that shoots more than Columbus and gets more on target than Columbus. Charlotte was able to neutralize their attack. I'm curious to see if we can duplicate that performance on the road.

Columbus lineup vs. NYCFC, 5/14
Columbus lineup vs. NYCFC, 5/14

Columbus is a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 team. In the modern game, this distinction can get somewhat blurred and is mostly about how you set up the midfield (i.e., do you have two of your midfielders creating a double pivot or a holding midfielder flanked by 8s? Or maybe a double pivot with a 10 in front?). In the past 3 games, Columbus has rolled out a 4-3-3 according to MLS, but the personnel remains largely the same, regardless of the formation.


The big injury for Columbus is Lucas Zelarayán who is likely out with a thigh injury. As a fellow person of Armenian descent, I hate this. There are very few Armenian players of note (Henrikh Mkhitaryan is the most notable recent Armenian international) and I always enjoy seeing them play. More than just his nationality, though, Zelarayán is a good footballer and it is a shame to not get to watch him. Of course, his likely absence is good news for Charlotte.

Columbus lineup vs. LAFC, 5/21
Columbus lineup vs. LAFC, 5/21

Other injuries according to MLS include Kevin Molino (winger, ACL injury) and Marlon Hairston (midfielder, thigh). Transfermarkt only has Molino and Zelarayán listed in the injury report.


Without Zelarayán, Columbus' attack is going to suffer. While he's listed as a midfielder on MLS, when Columbus play in a 4-3-3, he very much gets forward (and as the lineups show, often starts as a winger). Zelarayán has 4 goals and an assist on the season, following a 12 goal, 4 assist campaign last year. He is a big, big miss for them.

Elsewhere in the attack, Columbus lists 6 forwards: Molina, Noah Fuson, Jacen Russell-Rowe, Yaw Yeboah (U22 initiative player), Miguel Berry, and Erik Hurtado. While they don't have him listed as a forward, I'm going to be including Derrick Etienne in this section as he's been starting as a winger when they're in a 4-3-3.

Columbus lineup vs. ATL, 5/28
Columbus lineup vs. ATL, 5/28

Fuson and Russell-Rowe have yet to make an appearance for the Crew in MLS. Hurtado has only 4 appearances (1 start) but has 2 goals on the season in just 116 minutes. He's an MLS vet who has never been particularly prolific. His career-high in goals of 5 has happened twice: 2014 with Vancouver and 2020 with Sporting KC. 2014 was also his career-high in appearances with 30. He's been a career backup and while the 2 goals in so few appearances are good for Colum

bus, I wouldn't expect that to be a sign of things to come. At 31, he's not going to become a brand new player. He did get the start and a goal last game, though, so maybe I'm wrong (but I doubt it).

Yeboah, Berry, and Etienne are all consistent starters for this team. All three have played in all 13 of Columbus' games, with Yeboah getting 10 starts and Etienne and Berry getting 11.

It's Etienne's 3rd season with the Crew having joined from Cincinnati in 2019. He's been productive for them. While he's playing a bit more forward this year for them, he's a wide midfielder traditionally. He's rewarding Columbus with this change by having a career year already. Coming into this season, Etienne's career-high in goals was with RBNY (5 in 2018). In the 3 seasons before this one, he had a total of 2 goals and 6 assists in 55 appearances). He's at 3 goals and 5 assists in just 13 appearances this year. Now, this could be a fluke or a good run of form, but he's only 25. Additionally, since joining Columbus, he's been steadily improving his assist output: 2 in 2020, 4 last year, and now 5. This feels like a player progressing.

Berry was drafted by Columbus in 2020. He spent parts of 2 seasons on loan with Landon Donovan's San Diego Loyal SC. He was part of the Loyal team that walked off the field after homophobic slurs were directed at a teammate and went unpunished. I know very else about Berry, but him being part of a decision like that speaks volumes about who he is as a person. On the field, he's developing. He had 3 goals in 7 appearances for the Loyal in each season. Last year, back with Columbus, he had 8 goals in 18 appearances (9 starts). So far this year, he is at 2 goals in 13 appearances. At 24, he's not exactly young, but he only has 31 total appearances as a professional. He looks like a player.

Yeboah rounds out the forwards. He's in his first season with Columbus having joined from Wisła Kraków in the Polish Ekstraklasa. He's a young (ish) winger/wide midfielder who is showing a serious nose for goal. He had 4 goals in 28 appearances for Krakáw in 2020-21 and 5 in 19 appearances in 2021-22. He's yet to get a goal this year but does have an assist. Maybe his production never translates to the MLS but I think it will. As an aside, I have no idea why a 25-year-old is listed as a U22 Initiative player. Maybe someone who understands MLS's ridiculous roster rules can explain it.


Columbus has a ton of midfielders listed: Hairston, Sean Zawadzki, James Igbekeme, Jake Morris, Isaiah Parente, Alexandru Irinel Matan, Aidan Morris, Luis Díaz, Isaac Angking, Pedro Santos, José Artur de Lima Junior (Artur), Perry Kitchen, and Darlington Nagbe. Luckily for someone who when writing a preview insists on talking about every player, Zawadzki, Angking, Jake Morris, Kitchen, and Isaiah Parente have not made any appearances this year for Columbus. Angking does have 3 career appearances, but those were for New England back in 2018. Parente featured in 6 games (2 starts) last year but has yet to see the field this year. Kitchen is a MLS vet who hasn't been getting games for Columbus (5 appearances last year and none this year).

Aiden Morris has 7 appearances on the year (4 starts). He didn't feature for Columbus last year, while in 2020 he had 10 appearances (2 starts). He has yet to score a goal or get an assist for the club.

Matan has 5 appearances on the year for a total of 27 minutes. He got into 28 games (9 starts) last year, but, like A. Morris, has never gotten a goal or an assist.

Igbekeme and Díaz are wide players. Díaz is a young winger who has yet to have end product. In 60 appearances (35 starts) for Columbus, he has 4 goals and 6 assists. He has 1 goal this year but has only 7 (1 start) this year. Igbekeme is a 26-year-old who is in his first year in MLS, joining Columbus from Zaragoza in the Spanish second division. He's never been a goal-scorer having only 4 goals in his 5 seasons. His career-high was 2 goals in 2020-21.

Artur and Nagbe are both nailed-on starters for Columbus, as each has started all 13 games. Artur is a deep-lying defensive midfielder, while Nagbe will get up the pitch. Artur has only scored 2 goals for Columbus, but that's not his role in the team. He reads the game well (89th percentile for interceptions) and doesn't allow opponents to dribble around him (83rd percentile for percentage of dribbles tackled). He can really stretch the field with his passing (85th percentage for long pass completion percentage) and is immune to pressing (92nd percentile for passes under pressure).

Nagbe, meanwhile, will chip in a goal or two. He has 2 so fart his year. He's normally not good for much more than that, but being we're only 13-14 games into this season (depending on the club), he might get a few more than normal. He'll probably never get back to his career-high of 9 for Portland in 2013, but 4 or 5 this year would be a good return for the 31-year-old vet. Nagbe is an elite passer: 99th percentile for overall pass completion percentage, 95th percentile for short passing completion percentage, 99th percentile for medium pass completion percentage, and 99th percentile for long pass percentage. In fact, he's at 91.9% for long pass completion percentage for his career. He's 95.2% for medium pass completion or his career. His short pass completion percentage is 92.6% for his career. When you're long pass percentage is almost as good as your

short passing, you are either elite or terrible; he's obviously the former.

Santos is the last "midfielder" for Columbus, but he's been playing as a fullback for them this year. In his 6th season with Columbus, he's a dangerous player, though one on the downside of his career. He used to play much further up the pitch, but this year has made way for younger wingers. He has one goal this year and an assist in 13 starts. In 6 seasons with Columbus, Santos has 23 goals and 25 assists in 139 appearances. He's someone Charlotte is going to have to gameplan for down that right side.


Columbus list 6 players as defenders: Jonathan Mensah, Josh Williams, Jalil Anibaba, William Sands, Steven Moreira, and Milos Degenek.

Anibaba has 1 appearance on the year for 1 minute. He's come over from Nashville where he only made 21 appearances over 2 seasons.

Sands only has 2 career appearances, both this year for a total of 71 minutes. He came over to Columbus after a trade with NYCFC.

Moreira is their right back. He's started 12 of the 13 games this year. The French international joined Columbus in 2021 from Toulouse in France Ligue 1. He only has 19 appearances in MLS, but he's been dangerous. He's in the 97th percentile for xA and the 92 for SCAs. Combined with Santos on the opposite side, Columbus has two good attacking fullbacks.

Mensah, Williams, and Degenek all play at center half. Mensah has started all 13 games, while Williams (7 appearances, 4 starts) and Degenek (10 appearances, 9 starts) have partnered with him. Mensah is a stalwart

for Columbus, while Degenek is in his first year with the club, having joined from Red Star Belgrade in the Serbian SuperLiga. Williams is in his 6th season with Columbus and, while he's played a lot for them, he's never been a nailed-on starter (19 starts was his most for them back in 2017). Degenek is very good in the air (98th percentile) but doesn't pressure well (12th percentile) or tackle well (28th percentile). Williams is even worse in these categories: 1st percentile for pressures and 9th percentile for tackles. Mensah also doesn't pressure (1st percentile) or tackle (2nd percentile), but he's good at just about everything else. It's a point Mint City Analytics made earlier this week and I hope they don't mind me borrowing their graphic:


Columbus has 3 goalkeepers on the roster: Eloy Room, Brady Scott, and Patrick Schulte. Only Room has played for them in the league this year.

Room is in his 4th season with Columbus having joined from PSV in the Eredivisie. Last year was his first year as the definitive number one, as he had more appearances (30) than he did in 2019 and 2020 combined (29). He's been solid for them between the sticks. He has a +1.8 PSxG+/- this year, which is right in line with what he's been doing over the past few years. He was at +1.7 in 2020 and at +1.6 last year. He was at -0.6 in 2019, but with only 12 games, I think the past few seasons are more representative of who he is.


I'm excited about this match simply because I'm still excited about the "newness" of the team. There were a lot of positives that came about the last match and I'm curious to see if Lattanzio can get the boys playing better on the road.

Columbus had a tough May. Losses in an away game to the leaders of the East (NYCFC) followed by a home game to the leaders of the West (LAFC) is nothing to be ashamed about. A draw on the road to NE and a road win again Atlanta is something to be proud of (yes, I know Atlanta is decimated by injury, but away wins are always something to be applauded).

With my birthday being Saturday, the club's first away win would be a terrific way to celebrate it.

Prediction: Columbus 1 - Charlotte 2

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